General Sports

Concussions in the NFL and NHL

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control, a concussion is a clinical syndrome characterized by immediate and transient alteration in brain function, including alteration of mental status and level of consciousness, resulting from mechanical force or trauma. Translated, a concussion is a blow to the head that causes a change in brain function.

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman is probably one of the most recognizable names on the planet. He was a six time Pro Bowler, three time All-Pro selection, and a former Super Bowl MVP. Aikman was one of the cogs of the Dallas Cowboys’ dynasty in the 1990’s. Yet, when he retired, just a shell of who he was, in 2001, Aikman was reported to have suffered at least ten concussions in his career.
The same problems plagued Steve Young, and Pat LaFontaine at the end of their careers as well. What happens when players suffer multiple concussions? According to a study the National Football League did in 2007, players who had at least three concussions in their career was three times more likely to suffer from depression then players who did not fall victim to a concussion. “From my perspective, I think I got off relatively lightly. I think defensive players are far more at risk than quarterbacks. They get hit on every play and may often have concussions they don’t know about,” Aikman told ESPN in 2007.

Two of the “big four” sports, football and hockey, are ripe for many concussions, mostly because of the violent nature of the sports. The correct course of treatment for a concussion is rest, along with some form of over-the-counter aspirins for headaches. Yet, in this world of big money contracts, twenty-four hour sports talk radio, and “win at all costs” owners and general managers; athletes feel increasing pressure to push the limits of their bodies.

Is there pressure to play with concussions? Just ask Philadelphia Flyers forward Simon Gange. He told the Toronto Star late in the 2007 season, “I have to see the big picture, not the small picture. If it has to take longer, maybe another extra month, I’m going to take the time I need.” Of course, he said that as the Flyers were finishing one of their worst seasons in recent memory. When it comes to the playoffs, that’s another story. “It’s not a simple decision of, `Do you have symptoms or don’t you have symptoms?'” said Dr. Ruben Echemendia, to the Toronto Star, “there are a lot of other factors that come into play – who’s the player, what team are you playing, what game is this? All those factors do come into play.”

Coaches want to win at all costs, but so do players. Keith Primeau is a prime example of that. Playing for the Flyers, he was knocked out cold in their 2000 series clinching win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and came back to play just a few days later against New Jersey. Even Simon Gange admitted that he would have been out there playing in that 2007 season, if the Flyers were in contention for a playoff spot.

What the players are risking by “being a man” and “toughing it out”? If they suffer enough concussions, or one severe one, they will suffer from post concussion syndrome, something that even I suffer from, thanks to my days in playing sports. Symptoms include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, light sensitivity, lack of remembering or concentration, and even personality changes, which include manic depression and even bipolar disorder. Also, cases of early Alzheimer’s have been reported in NFL players who suffered more than three concussions in their careers.

If players push it too hard, they could be staring down death. Second Impact Syndrome is when someone suffers another concussion, while recovering from the previous one. The player may suffer a severe hematoma, bleeding on the brain, which could cause a player to slip into a coma and even die.

The question is now posed on the table, what can the NFL and NHL do about concussions, given the violent nature of their sports? The NFL and the NHL both do nuro scans in pre-training camp physicals. The NHL has also adopted computerized Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, or im PACT for short. This is to cut down on players desperately trying to stay in the line up, and other players who are trying to push it too quickly.

Talk around the NHL of late is to take an approach used by the Ontario Hockey League, and ban all hits to the head. This move is quite controversial, and has led many NHL’ers to speak out against this rule change, noting that it would be too easy for a player to draw a penalty. Many fans are also against the rule, claiming the fights, a very popular reason fans go to NHL games, would become extinct in the name of safety. In the NFL, there is talk to add more padding into the helmets, and there are rules in place to protect quarterbacks from late and cheap hits.

One thing is for certain, the NFL and NHL both are taking the issue of concussions seriously. They have to, players lives depend on it.

By matt Jordan

Matt is an in-studio producer for three radio stations in a six station cluster. He has produced and co-hosted three sports talk shows, with one of them becoming number one in the market. He also is a play by play announcer for the Florence Redwolves, who play in the Coastal Plain League, the nation's hottest College Summer League. He is in his fourth season. He also was the PA Announcer for the Florence Phantoms indoor football team.

In his spare time Matt enjoys reading, writing, playing RTS video games, debating on religion, and good music. He is currently writing a play, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2009. Matt also writes for Medusa's Kiss magazine.

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