The concussion epidemic in football is not something to be taken lightly; with more and more studies emerging highlighting the full extent of immediate and long term effects of concussions, people are calling out for changes. Forget the NFL, college football alone sees an alarming rate of only 1 in 27 head injuries being reported. It is widely believed that college players intentionally play through suspected concussions. Why then are these so called student-athletes not better educated and protected? As the title student-athlete would suggest, these young men are students first and athletes second but in reality the opposite appears to be true. So whose job is it to protect these aspiring young athletes? The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association), their respective schools, their coaches, their parents, or does the responsibility fall on the athletes themselves? Whatever the case may be, it is abundantly clear that no one is doing an adequate job.

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Yes, the athletes do need to able to better protect themselves so they should be better educated on the dangers of concussions and its consequences. But at the same time we must keep in mind that they are still kids and it is our responsibility to protect their best interests and ensure their safety. We cannot treat them like fully developed, adult professional athletes because they are not. They are still at a stage where their brains are developing, meaning damage to the brain could be catastrophic. The prevention of head injuries should be paramount given that they are students first and foremost, and without a properly functioning brain they are neither students nor athletes. Furthermore, a damaged brain endangers their future prospects in life.

There are no shortages of NCAA football cases where an athlete, despite suffering a head injury, went on to finish the game. There have been cases as blatant as where the player vomited on the field but continued playing. The list of players who continued to play despite suffering from a concussion is endless.

There was Michael Caputo who after taking a hit to the head was so disoriented that he walked into the wrong huddle.

And William Gholston who lay motionless for a significant amount of time after taking his hit. 

And finally the famous Shane Morris case which received wide media coverage. 

It is astonishing to think that in all the above cases the players were actually allowed to return to play, risking their lives for the sake of their schools in the process. So who is to blame for these atrocities? Well, in the Morris case, the school blamed poor communication. Yes, he was pulled from the game due to concerns from their neurologist but was immediately put back on without an assessment. The head coach defended himself saying that it was not his responsibility to make the calls on concussions and that he relied on the medical team’s expertise. This makes sense given the fact that the coach is paid millions to win games, not to protect his players. But still, he is right in claiming that it is the medical staff’s job to assess a concussion and clear a player to return to play. So, are the medical teams doing a respectable job?

Take USC’s Robert Woods case for example where after taking a big hit, he stumbled around on the field before being taken off. According to reports, his concussion test consisted of 3 questions: who is the current president, what is today’s date and what is 100 minus 7. Reports further suggest that he allegedly failed his verbal tests but was still allowed to get back on.

These kinds of appalling safety measures prove that schools are not doing enough to ensure the well being of its students. Therefore, it is up to the NCAA to remedy such oversights and ensure that schools take proper safety precautions. Are the NCAA doing enough? The simple answer is no. The NCAA are not doing nearly enough to make sure that its athletes are protected. Yes, they have set up a committee that reviews each school’s concussion protocol but this committee has no real power. They are not allowed to impose any sanctions or hand out penalties. What then is the point of this committee’s formation? Some believe that it is just a stunt by the NCAA to protect its own image and not its athletes.

It would seem then that it is up to the parents to protect their kids by either not allowing them to play football at all or by educating them about the dangers of concussion so they don’t go unreported. A popular notion however, is that as it becomes increasingly clear how detrimental to health football can be at its current state, more and more parents will stop their kids from playing football. This would lead one to believe that the future looks bleak for both college football and the NFL. Wrong. The unique case of Clint Trickett tells us otherwise.

Trickett had his football career ended prematurely at college level due to several concussions. Yet he loves the sport and claims that he would even allow his own kids to play the very sport that put his own life in danger. He acknowledges the fact that football is indeed a dangerous sport but argues that it was football that molded him into the person he is today. This suggests that there is something of value to be gained from playing football so an outright ban is not the solution. The solution is to find a way to make football safer not only for kids but for everyone. That is the real challenge and the way things are going, it seems unlikely that the challenge will be dealt with any time soon.

For further readings on the topic:

Football concussions are still a danger – especially for younger athletes: http://blog.al.com/sponsored/2015/09/football_concussions_are_still.html#incart_related_stories 

How the NCAA is failing the concussion test: http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/40980196

College football’s concussion problem: http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/writer/jon-solomon/24734520/studies-show-magnitude-of-college-footballs-concussion-problem

 

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