By: Cole Grossinger

According to sport philosopher John Russell, dangerous sport represents an opportunity for athletes to learn about themselves in ways not available in normal mundane life. It allows for athletes to determine how much they are willing to push themselves to reach their goals. Russell says that engaging in dangerous sports can have a significant and deep value on an athlete.

Yet, it is hard to accept the benefits of dangerous sport when we consider the potential life-changing physical, cognitive, and emotional risks that stem from head injuries sustained by young athletes.

Recent attention to the long-term brain damage linked to multiple concussions among professional athletes has prompted a much closer look at how young athletes can be protected from similar consequences.

The child and adolescent brain is especially susceptible to head trauma. This is evident in how 25,000 football players between the ages of 8 and 19 are taken to emergency rooms for concussions each year.  According to a National Athletic Trainers’ Association study, a child who suffers a concussion is one and a half times more likely to experience another, and those who have had two concussions have threefold greater risk of sustaining a third.

I can attest to these facts through my own personal experiences.

I sustained my first concussion while playing competitive volleyball at the age of 14. Immediately, my symptoms came on strong. Headaches, dizziness, fatigue and sensitivity to light were some of the constant symptoms that I dealt with during the months following my injury. I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and I was subject to strict protocols as I tried returning to sport. Two and a half months post-injury, my symptoms disappeared and my sports doctor allowed me to resume training and competition.

Three years later, I was recruited to play volleyball at Western University. On the morning of Sunday, November 23, 2013, exactly two years ago today, I woke up slightly nervous, yet mostly excited and ready to make my first career start for Western’s varsity men’s volleyball team. Little did I know at the time, however, my first start would also prove to be my last.

Halfway through the match versus Guelph, leading 12-9 in the second set after winning the first 25-12, I sustained my second significant head injury in three years.

Here’s how it happened:

In the seconds after the video cuts out, I regained consciousness. What I didn’t regain, however, was the clear mind and sense of normalcy that I had woken up with hours before. In fact, it took a long eight months this time around to begin feeling like myself again.

Similar to my first concussion three years earlier, my symptoms in the early stages of recovery included headaches, dizziness, light sensitivity, neck pain, and cognitive impairment (including trouble concentrating and reduced short-term memory).

In order to try and get back on the court and back in the classroom sooner, I tried everything from over the counter pain killers to prescribed sleeping medicine; from daily physiotherapy treatment to neck injections; from chiropractic treatment to ‘spins’ in the Gyrostim (a weird rollercoaster-type chair). Yet no matter how hard I tried to get rid of my symptoms, nothing was doing the trick.

In February 2014, under the strong recommendation of my doctor, I withdrew from all of my university courses to move back home. At the time, moving out of residence and away from my life as a first-year university student-athlete was extremely hard. I just wanted to feel normal again. Depression and anxiety became the next factors contributing to my complicated web of symptoms that wouldn’t go away.

Luckily for me, in the summer of 2014, after almost a year of treatment and tremendous support from my family and friends, I woke up one morning feeling normal.  As one morning waking up feeling normal became two mornings, and two mornings became an entire week, I knew I was finally over the hump and on the way to feeling like myself again.

The logical next step in moving past my concussion and back to life as a normal 18 year old was addressing the question of whether I would return to volleyball or not.

Although concussions in male volleyball are rare when compared with other sports, the chance of sustaining another one just wasn’t worth the risk. As mentioned, adolescent athletes who have had two concussions have three times the risk of sustaining a third.

After spending countless hours weighing the pros and cons of returning to play, both in my head and in discussion with some of my most trusted friends and family, it became clear that moving on from volleyball was the right choice.

Two years later, I am healthy, happy, and succeeding in school. I miss volleyball everyday, but I am proud of my decision and thankful for my health.

While I was lucky to have been followed by some of the country’s leading doctors on concussion treatment, unfortunately, many parents and coaches around the world are unaware of the seriousness of concussions and how to best treat and prevent them.

Studies have found that more than 50% of high school athletes and 70% of college athletes fail to report concussions that they sustain while playing football.

To make matters worse, often when athletes do present their symptoms, coaches and parents dismissively allow them to return to sport after a five-or-so minute “sideline check”.

The problem is that these quick tests are proven to miss about 40% of concussions. And when these concussions go untreated, athletes return to play and become increasingly at risk of second-impact syndrome – a condition that creates intense brain swelling that can lead to lifelong cognitive impairments, coma, and/or death.

Here’s Preston Pleveretes’ Story:

We must work harder to change the rhetoric and end the stigma surrounding head injuries. Concussions can no longer be minimized by language that describe blows to the head as “bell-ringers” or “dings”.

Now that more and more experts are finally referring to the increased prevalence of concussions in sport as the  “concussion epidemic“, it is time that we begin to label concussions by their proper medical term: mild traumatic brain injuries.

And even still, there is nothing mild about a mild traumatic brain injury.

Good luck convincing me, or the thousands of other athletes who live with post-concussion syndrome, that there is something mild about the symptoms that concussions create.

Good luck convincing Preston, and his family, that the pain and symptoms that he goes through on a daily basis were created by the mismanagement of a mild injury.

I’m sorry John Russell, but I am not convinced by what you refer to as the value of dangerous sport. Head trauma in sports, especially in youth sports, cannot simply be accepted as “part of the game”.

All sports associations, coaches, parents, or athletes unwilling to see it this way are guilty of mild traumatic ignorance.

Further Information:

Chris Borland – the promising, healthy NFL player who left his career behind due to concussion risks:

Bioethics article on the need for paternalism in the NFL:

The Concussion Blog post directed towards Russell Wilson’s mismanagement of his concussion:

Another Week of Head Injuries Shows College Football’s Concussion Problem Isn’t Going Away:

One thought on “There’s Nothing Mild About a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

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