Awareness and prevention key to decreasing sports concussions
Published: Friday, May 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
“Old people who say, ‘Oh there were the same amount of concussions back then, they just didn’t take it as seriously’ are ignorant,” Jeannot said. “The equipment is obviously much better now, but I feel like players take advantage of that. They use their heads more.”
It starts early. Dennis Horten sustained and witnessed numerous concussions when he played football at Kearsarge Regional High School in North Sutton, N.H. He recalls players missing games due to head injuries on a weekly basis.
“I’ve seen a player stumble off the field, falling over, and puking,” Horten said. “His eyes were rolling back into his head, just completely out of his mind.”
From 2006 to 2009, Horten saw a drastic change in concussion monitoring at the high school level.
“I’ve seen concussion testing go from unenforced my freshman year of high school to very intensive my senior year,” he said.
During his junior year at Kearsarge, Horten took part in a newly implemented computer baseline test. Players take the test prior to the season, and those who suffer a concussion are not allowed to return to action until they retake the test and match their previous score.
“Coaches never pressured anybody about concussions,” Horten said. “They took them very seriously, probably more so than the players.”
Nonetheless, some of his teammates’ concussions still went undetected by coaches and trainers.
“I know a lot of kids who would suffer a concussion in practice and not get the needed medical attention,” he said. “People think they can play through a concussion. A lot of that is a macho-boy, high school attitude.”
In Horten’s opinion, the players’ wellbeing is in their own hands.
“It’s only as good as the players are willing to make it. If you don’t tell someone about your injury, that’s your own fault,” he said.
UNH’s head athletic trainer, Jon Dana, feels that computer baseline testing has helped to eliminate bias from the examination of a post-concussion athlete.
“This way you can compare them to themselves,” Dana said.
Dana notices that concussed players are usually the ones who are eager to jump back on the field.
“Most often when a player really is adamant that they can return to play, they are the most affected by the concussion,” Dana said. “Usually, we just take their helmets and tell the coaches that they cannot return.”
Over the years, Dana has seen many instances of dishonesty from concussed players.
“They want to play, and we want to keep them from getting hurt worse,” he said. “So there is a natural tendency by them to minimize the symptoms.”
The University of Pittsburgh Brain Trauma Research Center reports that suffering a second concussion while still experiencing symptoms from a previous concussion can be fatal. It’s called “second-impact syndrome,” and since 1984, at least 26 lives have been claimed by it.
“The culture of the sport has changed for the better because of the increased awareness of coaches, players and parents,” Swartz said. “Now they realize that concussions are a serious injury, while decades ago, they weren’t aware of the acuteness of concussions or the long-term effects.”
The NFL has also tried to minimize concussions by changing the rulebooks. Players are now fined and suspended for helmet-to-helmet hits. Kickoffs take place at the 35-yard line instead of the 30, resulting in fewer kick returns. These rule changes reduced concussions by 12.5 percent last season - from 218 to 190, according to the NFL.
In Jeannot’s case, no rule modification could have prevented his concussion. After receiving day-to-day treatment from the UNH training staff, and specialty care from Dr. Mickey Collins at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in his native city of Pittsburgh, Pa., Jeannot tried to come back for his senior season.
Yet his symptoms returned and the highly-touted prospect was forced to give up his dreams of playing in the NFL.
“I was playing well before the injury,” Jeannot said. “I guess God’s plan for me didn’t involve playing football.”
Jeannot advises young football players to learn the game the right way. He encourages athletes to play football without using the helmet as a weapon, to find a dentist-recommended mouth guard that fits well to absorb impact, and to strengthen neck muscles through workouts such as shrugs, high pulls, neck flexion and extension.
Jeannot’s decision to leave the game was a life choice, but he said he hopes others don’t find themselves in the same situation.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “But I don’t worry about things out of my control now. I try to control what I can.”