For many, a large part of the appeal of football is the aggression. Something about the hallmark violence, the big hits, the sacks, feeds our most basic inclination for competition. Athletics provide a rare opportunity to create community and rally a chorus of sometimes unlikely friends in support of their favorite team. We cheer in unison when our defense smashes the opponent, and wince when our favorite player gets knocked to the ground. But these repeated hits, amounting to thousands of collisions over the course of a professional player’s career, can lead to debilitating injuries and severe loss of brain function. Sure, the players wear pounds upon pounds of protective gear, but besides providing protection, this equipment also turns players into veritable weapons. Big, fast missiles of men.
Unfortunately, despite technological advancements in protective gear and more stringent regulations in contact sports at all levels, there is yet little that can be done for concussions. Helmets protect the head from outside impact; however, they do nothing to keep the brain from being shaken around inside the skull, and research has shown that this is what causes the greatest damage.
In 2002 came the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathology (CTE), a degenerative disease understood to result from repeated brain traumas and associated with such symptoms as depression, confusion, memory loss, and dementia. Researchers like Dr. Bennet Omalu, the scientist responsible for the discovery of CTE, are working to develop preventative treatments for diseases caused by traumatic brain injuries, including experimenting with ways to prevent the buildup of the proteins that cause their onset. Manufacturer’s of protective equipment are also working to develop materials that will disperse the energy of impact and subdue the movement experienced inside the skull.
In the mean time, it is important that athletes, particularly those involved in contact sports, are closely monitored for head injuries. They should know the risks associated with their sport and be encouraged to report any feelings of nausea, dizziness, confusion, headaches, or any ringing in the ears. Players who show symptoms of a concussion should be taken out of play until thoroughly examined, as sustaining another head injury before the first has healed completely can make the situation far worse. If an athlete has suffered a concussion, complete physical and mental rest may be necessary for recovery. The time needed to heal can vary depending on the severity of the injury, but any amount of time that is recommended by a medical professional should be taken seriously. If the person concussed is a student, teachers may need to be notified of the injury, since a concussion, unlike a broken arm or leg, can’t necessarily be seen.
We are finally coming to understand the nature and severity of concussive head injuries, and it can be a scary subject to touch on. Many complain that articles reporting the data leave nothing to be done and resign themselves to the fact that athletes will continue to be injured and suffer the long-term effects of brain damage. However, research is being done all the time, new products being tested, new treatments being developed. The future of treatment for traumatic brain injuries is not all grim; in the mean time, we just have to play it safe and cautious.