Inherent risks, of life and sport, are a constant issue none more controversial than concussions. The truth of the matter is that concussions will occur in life without sports so playing: hockey, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, water polo or any sport comes with differing amount of risks/chances of concussion. By playing those sports we should understand those risks and be willing to accept the chances of injury, particularly concussion.
As we have stated close to eleventybillion times now; the actual injury of concussion is not the issue of this crisis, rather it is the mismanagement of the injury that is the problem. In other words it’s not the sports fault for concussions, it the people’s fault for not taking this brain injury serious. Even worse, it is people in positions of power that have caused many to be “mishandled” after injury, bringing us to where we are today.
This is where Derek Sheely comes in; this young man died on a football field in Maryland as a result of head trauma and the purported facts in the case are very scary;
- Four hour contact practice
- “Preseason practices at Frostburg served more as a gladiatorial thrill for the coaches than learning sessions for the players… Practice involved virtually unlimited, full-contact, helmet-to-helmet collisions.”
- Named coach in lawsuit explicitly told players to lead with their head and use their hat when tackling
- Apparent lack of preventative medical care by an athletic trainer
- And this quote: “Stop your bitching and moaning and quit acting like a pussy and get back out there Sheely!”
We have yet to have full discovery in this case and most likely there will be a settlement - like the one in recent news – to make the bad PR go away. Regardless this IS the problem in the concussion crisis, the culture and the lack of full understanding that denies and even inhibits proper management of concussions. This is not just a problem with those in charge, this is a problem of the support groups and the players themselves.
Tom Hearn, a sports safety advocate in Maryland has tried to shed more light on this issue for those that are policy makers by sending a letter to the Maryland State Board of Regents and the Governor. His overall opinion on this matter he shared with me via email;
The questions I posed to the Maryland Board of Regents could be posed to the governing body for every public and private university with an intercollegiate athletics program. Have you discussed sports concussions and other sports injuries at your meetings? Have you abdicated your responsibility on football head trauma by delegating decisions on limiting contacts to the NCAA rather than following Ivy League and PAC 12 Conference lead? For public universities, does limited sovereign immunity for coaches, administrators, and even Board of Regents members create perverse incentives that make sports more dangerous for students?
He expanded upon this with an op-ed piece that has since been published.
Are we doing enough? That is the crux of the Sheely case; on paper the we had a coach who supposedly knew the concussion issue, there was an athletic trainer, the University had to have a concussion policy, and the players should have had informed consent. It all looked good but in practice, according to what we have read, it was not put into place. Why?
The answer is simple in my mind… Heads are buried in the sand and there is so much minutia muddying the water we don’t even have a “reset” point.
This does not mean we should abandon the sport or sports and it won’t lead to obesity in children even if we did. It doesn’t mean there is not a solution through proactive rule enforcement (notice I did not say wholesale changes in rules) and education.
What this case means in my estimation is a hardening or the catch phrase of “doubling down” on putting in and checking on the PROPER education and management measures. This includes athletic trainers that have the power they are designed to have, and I have a sneaking suspicion that at Frostburg this recent column and study was unfortunately in place – coaches wielding too much power over the people who are there to protect athletes.
If we do not take a look at this and do something about these very sad and preventable deaths related to brain trauma we won’t have the chance to make changes, people and entities will take the sports away from us. No death is acceptable in a game, but as with life there are unfortunate circumstance and flat-out accidents. No sport can be 100% safe – like driving cars – but we can do our best to make sure the ones we can control for are taken care of.
We flat-out MUST get the proper medical care to the athletes and those professionals – athletic trainers – must have unimpeded protective care over an athlete. And the athletes and coaches must adhere to what we know about safety as it relates to the human brain.
Concussions are going to happen, what are we going to do when the do? Putting our head in the sand, pouting and putting pressure to come back too early will only make this problem greater.