Seeing Stars: Concussions Going out of Style

When people think of the word “technology,” the first items that come to mind are probably the cell phone, computer, or even social media. But technology can be more than tangible objects. Technology can be broken down into three words: apparatus, technique, and organization. Essentially, the word technology can represent a wide range of things, including a way of life—techniques used by a people to survive and grow their society. In this case, the term “technology,” is being used to represent an ideal or even societal norm. These norms can be beneficial or destructive, depending on the nature of the setting or the specific technology.

These ideal-type technologies can be taboo in a culture. A technology that has gone from being taboo in nature, to a topic of debate in sports circles, is concussions in sports. There is a certain technology, or way of thinking and acting, when it comes to this specific type of head injury. This way of thinking has evolved, and with it, the forms of treatment and amendments in policy surrounding concussions, especially in sports. There has been a shift, just in the past decade, in the way concussions are handled and perceived.

Concussions were once thought of as a badge of honor, a symbol of toughness. In the past, players who got their “bells rung” were expected to merely shake it off. It was almost “cool” to get a concussion when playing a sport. This is true not only with concussions, but most injuries in sports. An attitude of toughness is expected, along with the spirit of competition that comes with athletics. But a concussion is much different than a sprained ankle or jammed finger; a concussion is trauma to the brain.

A player who gets a concussion usually sustains some sort of blow to the head, resulting in temporary loss of normal brain function (AANS). The brain is bruised when it collides with the skull after the trauma occurs. In severe cases, the brain will actually swell, potentially causing serious brain damage. Wide ranges of symptoms are associated with a concussion, but the most prevalent symptom is the inability to remember what happened directly before the incident occurred. Other general symptoms include headache, vision disturbances, difficulty concentrating, nausea, confusion, and memory loss (AANS). When left undetected, concussions can result in long-term brain damage and may even prove fatal.

Receiving one concussion will likely not cause permanent damage, but athletes take a risk when they receive multiple concussions. Often times, these concussions occur before the brain has had time to heal, and this has resulted in drastic policy changes concerning diagnosis and treatment in sports.

Concussions are prevalent in all sports, surprisingly, and not just in football. Below, the numbers indicate the amount of sports concussions taking place per 100,000 athletic exposures, regardless of the amount of time played (Head Case):

  • Football: 64-76.8
  • Boys Ice Hockey: 54
  • Girls Soccer: 33
  • Boys Lacrosse: 40-46.6
  • Girls Lacrosse: 31-35
  • Boys Soccer: 19-19.2
  • Boys Wrestling: 22-23.9
  • Girls Basketball: 18.6-21
  • Girls Softball: 16-21.2

It is not surprising which sport has the highest incidence of concussions—football—but it is interesting that concussions occur so frequently in nearly every sport. In fact, when statistics concerning the occurrences of concussions are combined from all sports in the United States, the numbers are staggering (Head Case):

  • 3,800,000 concussions were reported in 2012, double what was reported in 2002.
  • 33% of all sports concussions happen at practice.
  • 39% — the amount by which cumulative concussions are shown to increase catastrophic head injury leading to permanent neurologic disability.
  • 47% of all reported sports concussions occur during high school football.
  • 1 in 5 high school athletes will sustain a sports concussion during the season.
  • 33% of high school athletes who have a sports concussion report two or more in the same year.
  • 4 to 5 million concussions occur annually, with rising numbers among middle school athletes.
  • 90% of most diagnosed concussions do not involve a loss of consciousness.

When analyzing the statistics, it appears that the rate of incidence for concussions has drastically increased over the years. But what is actually happening is that concussions are now being diagnosed, rather than ignored. Concussions are currently the hot-topic in sports, and athletic training staffs are now more thorough in assessing injuries of the head.

It has not been all forward progress in concussion awareness. In fact, for an extended period of time, the National Football League (NFL) hindered efforts to change the perceptions surrounding concussions. Shifts in perception have been due to a variety of factors, all of which come down to discoveries from research. Frontline completed a report on the NFL and concussion research. In the article, Frontline includes a timeline with side-by-side comparisons between research discoveries on concussions, versus actions that were taken by the NFL in response to those research findings.

It is rather disturbing, the great divide between the clear proof presented by the research teams, and how the NFL chooses to respond. Football is a lucrative profession, and the NFL’s best interests do not primarily revolve around player health, but player performance and revenue. The NFL was, and is still, mainly concerned with making the most money possible from players before each succumbs to injury.

The NFL, according to Frontline, misinforms their own players, forming their own committee to do so. This committee was designed to “investigate” the reports of concussions in the NFL and in the sport of football in general. This committee is a sham, according to many players, and is only in place to withhold data and spread misinformation. In doing so, the NFL profits from glorifying violence, at the cost of the players participating. Many of these players end up paying with their lives, with severe and continual head traumas leading to depression, dementia, and suicide.

Not only does the NFL deny that concussions result in increased risk of further brain damage, but the committee also encourages junior and senior high organizations to put aside the research being reported. The NFL is not only playing with the brains of professional adults, but is also putting thousands of growing brains at risk.

It wasn’t until December, 2009 that the NFL finally publically acknowledges the long-term effects of concussions. This was after nearly 20 years of denying constant scientific reports that documented the immediate and long-term effects of concussions in football. It is hard to believe that the NFL faced minimal consequences, only required to pay $765 million dollars in damages (Frontline). In return, the NFL did not have to accept any responsibility. To this day, there is no admission of guilt by the NFL, nor admission that any symptoms presented during or after a career were caused by football.

The extensive research that has been completed disrupts the social relationships between the athlete and the athletic organization. Before in-depth analysis of the consequences of concussions, there was a hierarchy in place in the world of professional athletics. Specifically, the NFL commission provided the football entertainment people demanded, using talented football players to do so. The players were expected to follow the direction of the commission, as the commissioner is in charge of the rules and regulations in the NFL. This can be seen as an authoritarian approach to sports.

The switch in the artifact politics surrounding concussions occurs after the NFL/player lawsuit. The NFL transitioned from an authoritative to a servant role. The commission, in the players’ minds, should serve the players and have the health of the players as the top priority.

Luckily, the sport seems to be heading in the right direction, even with the tampering done by the NFL. There have been sweeping rule changes instituted in college and professional football. In the NFL, kickoffs were brought out by five yards in order to decrease the number of high impact collisions. One has to think, though, that the NFL is making changes only for their own self-interest. The healthier a player, the longer a player will stay in the NFL and make the league more money. It is hard to believe the league actually cares for the players more than their own wallets. If it were not for the push of the media, and a few brave scientists, there would not have been a shift in the way society has started looking at head injuries. For one, society is now looking at concussions as a serious problem in sports. There is still a lot of work and amendments to make in the rulebooks, but it is a start.

While the NFL has made some strides in head injury prevention, other sports, like boxing, still lack proper policy. The irony, and a catch-22 of the modern approach to head-injury, is that although concussions are now going out of style, head-protective equipment is following suit. There is another social stigma about using head protection and other devices that are specifically designed for the safety of its wearer. A good example of this is wearing a helmet when riding a bike or any other recreational activity on a set of wheels. It is strange that people are mocked for wearing a helmet when riding a bike, when it could save a life. Why would someone not want to wear a helmet? The answer always seems to be leaning toward the side of social pressures and not looking “nerdy”.

This is the reason boxing remains a sport lacking a concussion policy. To enforce rules surrounding head injury would completely alter the sport. And then there are pitchers in baseball. Some are beginning to wear head protection, but most choose not to because the headgear are often cumbersome.

This also begs the question, where is the line going to be drawn? At what point is the integrity of the game compromised? And, are the people who are making these decisions swayed by profit, or acting out of true concern for the players?

At some point, the risks have to be accepted by all those involved. Injury is a risk we all face in everyday living, and playing a sport only increases that risk, no matter the sport. People enjoy playing and watching sports for the competitive atmosphere. Society is not going to eliminate high-risk sports entirely, and so, to a point, consequences must be understood and accepted. But a big part of this, is assuring that all parties involved are properly educated, in order to make informed decisions. This is the biggest advantage that comes with the transformation in the technology of concussion, because people are now finally knocking out the “normal” societal views of concussions.

Works Cited:

Ezell, Lauren. “Timeline: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis.” Frontline. PBS, 1 Jan. 2015.

Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/sports/league-of-denial/timeline-the-nfls-concussion-crisis/&gt;.

Head Case. HeadCaseCompany, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.headcasecompany.com/concussion_info/stats_on_concussions_sports&gt;.

“Patient Information.” American Association of Neurological Surgeons. 1 Jan. 2015.

Web. 13 Apr. 2015.

<http://www.aans.org/patient information/conditions and treatments/concussion.aspx>.

Winner, Langdon. Do Artifacts Have Politics? 1986.

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