There is a dark cloud hanging over the world of contact sports and it is growing at an alarming rate. With the size and speed of today’s athletes, the sports of football and hockey have become more exciting, fast paced, wide open, and fun to watch. However, there is another consequence of these ever growing athletes on their sports.
They have made the collisions in them increasingly more violent. The velocity that these athletes hurl themselves through the air has created an atmosphere that could not have been imagined when these sports were created. Although the athletes’ bodies have become stronger and more agile, there are still weak points in a persons’ body that size and strength cannot compensate for. One of these points, and the most crucial of all, is the brain.
The incidences of concussions among athletes has been steadily on the rise and with this increase, more and more athletes have suffered multiple concussions, which leads to the occurrence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, which has become a term that is gaining recognition among those who are treating these athletes (Jolicoeur et al, 2007). CTE is a brain disorder that has symptoms that appear to be like Alzheimer’s and is caused by repeated trauma or concussions to the brain. The difference being that it is not genetic and can be prevented (Zeigler n. d. ).
Though many who have participated in these sports, even at high levels, don’t have symptoms and rates of concussions among NHL players has seen a recent decline, sports organizations have to take more aggressive actions to prevent concussions because high school, college and professional football players and NHL players have still been suffering concussions at an extremely high rate (Burke et al, 2011). Sports organizations have to take more aggressive actions to prevent concussions. Jolicoeur et al (2007) indicate that over the last several years, the occurrence of concussions has grown at an alarming rate and that here have been between 50,000 – 300,000 occurrences of concussions among athletes in the United States in any one year. A recent study of college football players has shown that those who participate in high contact sports and have had a concussion before have a 300% higher chance of having another one in comparison to athletes that have never had a concussion before (Jolicoeur et al, 2007). The NFL and NCAA have enacted several rule changes in order to minimize the occurrence of concussions. These new rules, like many before them, have come under the scrutiny of the very athletes that they were meant to protect.
The NHL and NHL Players Association in 1997 together created a program in order to get a better understanding of concussions and how to prevent them (Burke et al, 2011). According to Covassin (2008), athletes who have had more than one concussion take a longer time to recover with each concussion that they suffer from. NHL players suffer concussions at a very high rate. In 1997, the number of concussions among NHL players suffered during games was reported at 559. This does not include incidences where the player didn’t inform the team physician of symptoms that he was having, which would have made this number a lot higher.
Players actually lost consciousness in 18% of these cases. Fortunately, there has been a significant improvement in these numbers over the last several years. The rates that these injuries are occurring have dropped greatly from the 2000-2001 season, when it was 7. 7 per 100 players, to the 2003-2004 season, where it fell to 4. 9 per 100. Some of the reasons for this are more strict return to play guidelines by physicians, better diagnosis, a lower rate of reporting symptoms by players, and better testing (Burke et al, 2011).
Greater efforts should be made to inform participants in hockey about the adverse effects that come from “playing through” concussions and dizziness and the risks involved with not reporting symptoms to team physicians. Also stricter measures need to be followed immediately after a concussion has been suffered from (Burke et al, 2011). Probably the most important reason sports organizations have to take more aggressive actions to prevent concussions is because high school, college and professional football players suffer a high amount of concussions.
The evidence is mounting that some NFL players suffer the same brain damage or ‘punch drunkeness’ that has for years been associated with boxers (Miller, 2010). One problem is that not all players wear the latest helmets. Some of the older helmets in use still meet regulations, but they don’t have the latest technology to protect players. Many players prefer older model helmets simply for comfort, and while newer helmets are not concussion-proof, they can provide better protection.
Probably the most serious problem is the pressure team physicians feel to get players back on the field (Lazarus, 2011). These are dangerous trends being that “the typical football player, over the course of a high school, college, and pro career, will encounter thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hits to the head. Many experts now believe this increases the risk of CTE” (Miller, 2010). NFL executives have been slow to realize the inherent employment risk involved with their product when it comes to CTE’s.
However, with the participation of over four million youths in school leagues and the tens of millions who watch the Super Bowl every year, they are uniquely placed to have influence over safety guidelines that would almost assuredly be copied by the NCAA, high school, and youth leagues throughout the country and the world (Miller, 2010). Youth and high school coaches should also be made to undergo training for recognizing when a player has suffered a head injury and encouraged to keep them out of games and practices until they have been cleared to play. CONCLUSION
Although many who have participated in these sports don’t have symptoms and rates of concussions among NHL players has seen a steady decline, sports organizations still have to take more aggressive actions to prevent concussions for two main reasons. First, the rate that NHL and NFL players suffer concussions at is still very high, and some believe underreported. But most importantly, youth, high school, college and professional football and hockey players take a large amount of head hits during their careers and these organizations have the power to influence stricter guidelines that would be followed by lower level organizations.
- Benson, Brian W. , Willem H. Meeuwisse, John Rizos, Kang Jian, and Charles J. Burke. “
- “A Prospective Study Of Concussions Among National Hockey League Players During Regular Season Games: The NHL- NHLPA Concussion Program. “
- CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal 183. 8 (2011): 905 – 911. Academic Search Elite. Web. 5 Feb. 2012.
- Jolicoeur, Pierre , Louis De Beaumont, Benoit Brisson, And Maryse Lassonde. “Long-Term Electrophysiological Changes In Athletes With A History Of Multiple Concussions. ” Brain Injury 21. 6 (2007): 631-644.
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- Lazarus, Arthur. “NFL Concussions and Common Sense A Recipe for Medical Errors and a Lesson for Physician Leaders. ” Physician Executive 37. 1 (2011): 6 – 9. Physician Executive. Web. 19 Feb. 2012.
- Miller, Michael Craig. “Concussions In Football. ” Harvard Mental Health Letter 26. 7 (2010): 8. Academic Search Elite. Web. 30 Jan. 2012.
- Zeigler, Terry. “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). ” Sports Injuries, Sports Medicine, Injury Treatment Videos, and Find a Doctor. N. p. , n. d. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. <http://www. sportsmd. com/Articles/id/44. aspx>.