I know I’ve written about concussions a lot recently, but there is so much in the news lately about them that the topic is on my mind a lot. Just this week, in the Thursday night NFL game, Cleveland Browns QB Colt McCoy took a viscous shot to the head by Pittsburg Steelers LB James Harrison. Anyone watching the game could see that he was obviously concussed, dazed, and disoriented. He returned to the game however, and played until the end. After the game, McCoy’s father was outspoken saying that his son should not have been allowed to return to the game. There were reports that he was completely disoriented after the hit, but the coaching staff insists that the NFL’s concussion protocol was followed in allowing him to return to the game. This conflicts with an ESPN report that claims McCoy was not administered the mandatory Sport Concussion Assessment Tool review until Friday morning.
McCoy is an adult and earns millions for what he does, but doesn’t he still deserve to be protected from possible permanent brain injury? His father certainly thinks so. But what troubles me the most is the trickle-down effect this kind of nonchalance about concussions has on young athletes. What about the 10 year olds playing in little leagues with sparse funding who have helmets that have been passed down for years and years and are outdated and improperly fitting – is their safety taken seriously? What about the high school football players at schools that can’t afford medical staff such as athletic trainers and that don’t have a physician volunteer on the sidelines – is their safety taken seriously? Maybe their fathers or mothers aren’t at the away games to keep an eye on their son to make sure the coaches don’t overlook a serious concussion.
A recent article in the Baltimore Sun caught my eye in highlighting how younger athletes with developing brains are at greater risk for damage if they sustain a concussion. They are also at risk for the additive effects of sub-clinical concussive episodes that may be easily missed. With all of this new data coming out about the dangers of youth concussions, the question needs to be asked, “Do we really need full contact football for kids?”
I love football as much if not more than most, but I’m beginning to question whether I would even let a son of mine play, especially at age 8 or 9. Some middle schools are dropping contact football for flag football programs, which are both safer for the athletes and cheaper for the school. Perhaps it is time to consider switching nationwide to a non-contact option like flag football before high school. Do 11 year olds really need to know how to hit each other at full speed? I know it would be hard to sell in this country, but I think it would increase safety for our children without hurting their ability to play at higher levels later. At the least, I hope the organization that many of our young athletes aspire to work in someday, the NFL, will set the right example for the entire sport of football and begin to take concussions seriously.