No room for error with concussions

Published 8:42 pm Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It takes just a weekend of football to see concussions are more prevalent than ever before.

Football — every sport really, and all the way to the high school and youth levels — is being played by faster and stronger athletes. It’s awesome to watch, be it in person or on the tube.

I think standing a few yards from full-speed collisions in Nansemond River vs. Lakeland or Nansemond-Suffolk vs. Christchurch games is intimidating. I haven’t had the experience of being as close to an NFL game. It must be insane.

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Faster and stronger also means riskier. Sunday’s Packers vs. Eagles game included a clear example, because it was literally out in the open.

Every football fan by now must have seen at least the replay of Eagle linebacker Stewart Bradley stumbling and falling over in the middle of the field after receiving a concussion on Sunday.

Bradley must somehow have avoided a trainer or lucky-guessed “What’s your name?” and “What state are you in?” correctly, because a couple plays after what all the world saw as a serious injury, he was back on the field. A couple minutes later, he was back on the sideline, where he stayed for the rest of the game.

All the trainers in Suffolk schools do great, completely professional jobs. And they perform well not only during Friday night football games, but under long hours at each school for any game or any practice and for any sport.

A head coach gets blamed for a play that doesn’t go as designed on fourth and goal.

But medical personnel handle the truly vital situations and have real pressure on them when they’re called upon.

Maybe if concussions were called “brain trauma” or “brain injuries” it would be easier to take them more seriously.

The Virginia High School League, the organization overseeing all public school athletics in Virginia, now mandates student-athletes take online tests that measure cognitive function, prior to a school year or season starting.

Athletes set baseline, non-concussion, results on the test. An athlete must take the same test if a concussion is suspected or to help determine when it’s safe to return to practice or to play.

Medical data has shown that cheerleading is the most dangerous high school sport as far as severe injuries. Gravity plus a gym floor is unforgiving.

Head-high sticks and shots, with no helmets, make some field hockey injuries worse and scarier than being run over by a 230-pound linebacker.

In California high school football this fall, referees have been mandated to keep any player out if they suspect he’s showing signs of a concussion.

Maybe the rule deserves a tweak, such as letting a doctor or trainer “re-overrule” the ref. Overall though, one more layer of protection is a good idea.

There really should be no leeway with any head or neck injury. If a pro, with pro-level stakes, wants to chance it to some degree, that’s one thing.

If a kid, 18 years old or younger, with a long future athletically and otherwise, has or possibly has such an injury, there should be no risks taken at all.