In November of 1984, the Academy Bumblebees loaded their busses and headed to the regional football playoff game. This was a very big event for this 2A Texas football program. From my seat on the cheerleaders’ bus, I noted that signs lined the highway as we rolled out of town.
My favorite sign read, “Last one out town turn out the lights!”
Friday night lights are a big deal here in Texas. Thirty years later we’ve graduated from lining the road with spirit signs to building stadiums fit for Rome.
The trendsetter in my area is Allen, TX. The Allen ISD completed the massive 18,000 seat Eagle Stadium in August of 2012. Katy, TX recently broke ground on their planned 12,000 seat, $61 million stadium. My own town, McKinney, will soon be voting on a bond to build a 12,000 seat, $63 million stadium. It will be the most expensive high school stadium in the state. Other cities are sure to follow.
But, amidst the roar of the Friday night crowd, another voice grows louder. It’s the voice of concern for our young gladiators and their risk of concussion.
Concussions occur when your head is hit by something going at a high speed, or your head is traveling at a high speed and something abruptly stops it. These acceleration/deceleration injuries cause the brain to bounce back and forth inside the skull. A concussion doesn’t cause any abnormalities that can be seen on scans like CT scans or MRIs, but it does affect brain function, disrupting the organized firing of neurons.
Individuals who sustain concussions suffer from a wide range of symptoms that may include headache, slurred speech, blurred vision and difficulty walking, among others. They may last a short while. Or for days, or weeks.
Football players suffer the highest number of concussions of high school athletes. This makes sense. It’s a game where the goal is to hit someone with your entire body weight – without any hesitation.
But football isn’t alone. Wrestling, soccer, hockey and lacrosse all carry a significant risk for concussion. One in five high school athletes have a concussion during the season each year. The consequences can be significant.
A single concussion can lead to post-concussive syndrome. The symptoms for this may last for weeks. They can interfere with both the athlete’s ability to play sports and their academic performance. Treatment is rest from all activity, including reading books or looking at computer or TV screens. An individual who has suffered a concussion is more likely to suffer another after returning to play.
Then there is the issue of CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This condition was the focus of the recent Will Smith movie, Concussion. It was once known as “dementia pugilistica” and was seen most commonly in boxers, who showed aggression, suicidal behaviors, movement disorders and other symptoms after a lifetime of head trauma. Dr. Bennet Omalu noticed the connection in football players. But the movie offered a Hollywood version of the story.
For now we have an association between repeated head trauma and CTE, but causation has not been established. And in fact, most athletes who suffer from multiple concussions don’t develop CTE. There is more to the story that we don’t understand.
But regardless of what we eventually learn about CTE, we are still faced with the question of concussions and student athletes. Most high schools follow strict concussion procedures to prevent athletes with head injuries – however mild – from continuing play until fully recovered. But that’s not the same as prevention. And post-concussive syndrome can be devastating to a high school student preparing for college.
Team sports offer many advantages to players. I have soccer and lacrosse players myself, and I worry about concussions. But I am also keenly aware of the benefits of these sports. From being a part of a team to developing the discipline and skill required for the sport to combatting the increasing hold of obesity on our youth, these benefits are real. They are worth a certain amount of risk.
But I wonder about priorities. Does it make sense to spend the kind of money we do on these stadiums? In contrast, how many millions do school districts spend to train personnel and players in how to prevent concussions? There is no comparison. And do young players get more aggressive earlier, buoyed by dreams of playing in the big stadium or their parents who want see them play there?
I wish the bond proposal in my school district didn’t include such a grand stadium, I’d rather see funding for more personnel like athletic trainers to monitor and work with athletes. I wish it included more training for all personnel in techniques to prevent head injuries. I wish it included a larger budget for equipment that would help protect these kids. And I wish it included money for research on how to prevent and treat concussions.
But the school bonds don’t include funding for these things. I hope the lawsuits do.
Amy Rogers MD is not a practicing physician and nothing written here should be taken as medical advice from either Amy or AssetBuilder. Medical decisions should be made with care in consultation with your health care provider.