Examining the Blind Side of a Brutal Game

Damon

Damon Janes, a 16-year-old from western New York, died early this week after sustaining a helmet-to-helmet hit. (Photo Credit: Facebook)

 

Football can be a brutal game.

On the youth and high school levels, where kids’ bodies and brains are still developing, the consequences of head injuries are often more dire than the head-to-head hits we see on NFL Sunday.

Last week, a 16-year-old from western New York died after being knocked unconscious by a helmet-to-helmet collision in a high school football game on September 13. Damon Janes, a junior running back for Brocton High School, died at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo three days later. Janes is the second high school player in less than a month to die from a football-related injury.

In mid-August, De’Antre Turman, a 16-year-old at Creekside High School in Fairburn, Ga., fractured a vertebrae in his upper spinal cord during a scrimmage. And in 2011, 16-year-old Ridge Barden of Phoenix, N.Y., collapsed during a football game due to bleeding in the brain caused by a hit that led to his death. According to the Annual Survey of Football Injury Research prepared by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research at the University of North Carolina, there were 25 fatal injuries to high school football players in the U.S. between 2003 and 2013.

 

Shiocton's Hunter Young (34) hits his teammate Dan Erickson (7) while be tackled by Fond du Lac Saint Mary's Springs Academy's Benton Deanovich, left, and Trevor Ebertz during the second half of a Division 6 WIAA championship football game Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011, in Madison, Wis. Saint Mary's won 24-0. Photo Credit: AP

Young athletes are most vulnerable to head injuries because their brains are still in the developmental stage. (Photo Credit: AP)

 

The most vulnerable players are not the well-compensated professionals suiting up on Sundays or the ones awarded college scholarships and featured on national television on Saturdays. It’s the kids strapping on helmets in high school — and youth leagues — that have the most to lose.

With 1,124,384 participants in the 2012-2013 school year, football attracts more high school players than any other sport in the U.S., according to the High School Athletics Participation Survey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that teenage players suffer nearly two million brain injuries every year. Preventative Medical Specialist Dr. Victor Coronado says the chances of getting a concussion while playing high school football are approximately three times higher than any other sport. Coronado collaborated with the CDC to help form HeadsUp, a program that promotes concussion awareness among high school athletes, coaches and parents.

“Sixty-five percent of concussions occur among children between five and 18 years of age,” Coronado said. “Children and teens are more likely to get a concussion than adults, and they take longer to recover.”

Football is at an eerie crossroads

The sport brings in billions of dollars annually, yet because of the game’s dangers there is an unmistakable cloud of uncertainty, hanging over the future of the sport. The battle for the morality of the game will not be won or lost on the NFL gridiron no matter how much money is thrown at the problem. The future of football will be determined by evaluating how it protects its young prospects, whether its a 10-year-old playing in Pop Warner or a highly touted senior playing in front of college scouts.

In August the National Federation of State High School Associations online concussion awareness course granted its millionth certificate since it partnered with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in May 2010. The CDC foundation was able to launch the program by using a $1.5 million grant given to them by the NFL.

The state of New York passed the Concussion Management and Awareness Act in 2012. In total 49 states have passed similar legislation that outlines rules and regulations for concussion training, as well as standards for testing and procedures to follow before a concussed athlete can resume play. High school players now are required to be evaluated by a physician independent of the school. That physician is the only one that can clear a player to get back on the field. Dr. Gad Klein, a neuropsychologist at the Long Island Concussion Center at Neurological Surgery, P.C., said the legislation is just another reflection of all the attention concussions have received lately in the news.

“We have seen a major increase of parents bringing in their kids for baseline testing,” said Klein. “The NFL players committing suicide, documentaries of players suffering with dementia and the lawsuit between former players and the league got everyone’s attention.”

Mike McGlone is an assistant Coach for Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown, Ohio. He has dealt with concussions as a high school football player at Cardinal Mooney and while playing in college at Youngstown State University. McGlone said that when he was playing high school football just six years ago, the way concussions were treated would seem barbaric now.

“The kids now are much more aware of concussions, to the point that they are pulling themselves out of practice,” said McGlone, who added that he learned a lot from taking the concussion awareness training course and believes that better safety measures can only benefit the game.

“Better safe than sorry,” he said. “It has created this odd situation where after every hard hit a kid will come up to me and say, hey coach, I think I’m concussed?”

Medical experts agree that the laws have been successful educating coaches, players and parents to better deal with concussions. Concussions are being diagnosed more frequently, which doctors attribute to less concussions being missed. Klein agrees that the laws are doing a good job with diagnosis, but there are no signs that they have any impact on preventing concussions.

The next time you watch an NFL game, remember that the athletic specimens you are cheering were all once starry-eyed high school players. Football has always been a game of fundamentals and if we don’t get concussions right at the most basic level, the game will fade from memory.

Some high school coaches think that the new laws are an overreaction to the all of the publicity the NFL concussion lawsuit has garnered. Klein admits that while evidence is mounting, the research regarding the overall impact of brain trauma among youth athletes is still inconclusive.

Klein said the severity of concussions vary so much between individuals that it makes having one hard and fast rule for “return to play” very difficult. He said he’s most worried about teenagers dealing with multiple concussions.

Klein added, “Hypothetically if a 15-year old had three concussions in a year, I would recommend that they never play contact sports again.”

 

Follow Jonathan Moffie on Twitter @JonathanMoffie

 

3 Comments

  1. CUNY Graduate School of Journalism » Clips of the Week
    September 27, 2013

    […] site features stories about football and concussions by Chris Dell, Alex Eidman, Jesse Metzger, Jonathan Moffie and John […]

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  3. Michelle Young
    November 30, 2013

    Great article but scarey , even more so as my son is in the photo that is featured.

    Reply

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