The Times West Virginian

February 27, 2013

Concussions can no longer be considered ‘part of the game’

Times West Virginian

— “It’s better to miss one game than the whole season.”

That’s the message that the Centers for Disease Control is sending out to young athletes when it comes to concussions. But perhaps the message should be “Live to play another day.”

One game can change your life forever, or end it. In Washington State, Zackery Lystedt, 13, was injured during a football game. He was hit again on the field, suffering from “second-impact trauma,” and collapsed on the field. Zack spent the next three months in a coma.

In Washington, the Lystedt Law attempts to protect young athletes from returning to a game too soon by requiring written permission from a medical professional before an injured athlete can return to the game.

Some of those same requirements are being used right here in Fairmont on the high school and university level in athletics. At East Fairmont High School, athletes are able to participate in testing designed to provide a baseline of knowledge in an athlete, and then can re-take the test after getting a concussion and throughout recovery to help trainers measure how they are doing.

Through ImPACT, which stands for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing, coaches, trainers and athletes are also armed with information on how to identify a concussion on the sidelines to prevent any further damage to the brain. The same system is used at Fairmont State University with a great deal of success.

We commend these schools for directly dealing with this issue and encourage others to participate on every athletic level, from youth recreational teams to competitive collegiate leagues. Because a concussion isn’t just an immediate threat. Like 13-year-old Zack, if athletes refuse to talk to their coaches and trainers about a head injury in the middle of a game, a second injury could cause extreme swelling, bleeding and sudden death in an athlete.

In addition to that, chronic and repeated head injuries can cause long-term brain damage, which changes personalities, causes aggressiveness and creates gaps in function, memory and knowledge.

We’ve built bigger, better athletes. Look at the linemen of the 1920s — the “leather heads” — versus the massive linemen of today’s NFL. We’ve replaced the leather “helmets” with state-of-the-art armor for the shoulders, legs and heads. But nothing, not even the best helmet money can buy, can truly protect the brain tissue inside the skull. In fact, the stronger the helmet, the stronger the hit. The more you protect an athlete, the more vulnerable he is.

No one is advocating ending impact sports. And the NFL has certainly identified the issues of brain trauma, whether it be because of a class-action lawsuit or human decency, and has started to fine players for certain kinds of hits.

Considering the amount of money these athletes make to take down their opponent, you have to ask whether punitive measures are effective.

In fact, you just have to ask what can be done in the long run to stop the trauma, from soccer to football and from cheering to softball.

We can’t accept the old-school mentality of concussions as “just part of the game.” They’re not. They are potentially exposing our children to a lifetime struggle if they continue with athletics and repeated head injuries.

We’ve come so far in identifying the problem. Now we have to identify some solutions.