"Be aggressive. B-E aggressive. B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E."
This classic cheer rings throughout the minds of many athletes and sports fans alike. Competition is the mantra stamped out not only in the sporting world, but also in life. Even Will Ferrell's fictional racecar driver, Ricky Bobby from "Talladega Nights," said, "If you ain't first, you're last."
But where is the line for competition drawn? At what cost should players, parents, coaches and organizations continue competition? How far is too far, when safety and long-term health are at stake?
I'm talking about concussions. The all-too confusing, and often overlooked injury that, according to a study by the Brain Injury Resource Center, affects an estimated 300,000 athletes each year.
The English word, concussion, is derived from two Latin words: concutere, which means "to shake violently," or concussus, which means "action of striking together." Clearly, when someone suffers a concussion, it should signify a major injury. But the exact opposite is usually true. Unlike a broken leg or another broken bone, which is usually easily identifiable, concussions happen very much beneath the surface. It is an injury to the most vital part of the body: the brain. You can survive and live a semi-normal life with a broken bone or torn ligaments, but your life is changed forever after that one bad concussion.
The Mayo Clinic staff reports that some of the immediate symptoms of concussions range from confusion, amnesia, headache and dizziness to ringing in the ears, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech and fatigue. Yet what is perhaps more daunting and frightening are the symptoms that are not apparent until hours, days and sometimes even weeks later: memory or concentration problems, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep disturbances, irritability and depression.
Concussions are a tricky injury to diagnose. We live in a society where one blow to the head is seen as "getting your bell rung," a somewhat rite of passage for many Pee Wee football players and other athletes.
The NFL is the most recognizable professional sports league in the country. And who looks up to NFL players the most? Young athletes. When the young athletes see their favorite player get pummeled on the line or knocked out of the air, and then they are slow to jump up again and resume play, that young athlete will remember the "toughness" the player just showed and will try to replicate that at his or her next game.
This is where society, and most notably, the NFL and its analysts and coaches, fail.
Our society glorifies the bone-crunching, jaw-dropping hits football players and hockey players endure on the field and ice. When soccer players battle for a header and clunk noggins, it is seen as a highlight on ESPN's "Top 10 Plays of the Day," but really, someone probably sustained a head injury. When a basketball player dives to save the ball from going out of bounds and bangs his head on the scorer's table, the crowd lets out a giant "ooooh" in amazement and awe, but really, something is wrong.
The NFL must be held responsible for allowing players to continue play after suffering a concussion, and Congress plans to make that happen.
In September, a House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee proposed a bill which focuses on establishing standards for student-athletes who get concussions, led by Rep. George Miller (D-CA). The bill, called the Protecting Student Athletes from Concussions Act, would enforce evaluations for students who have suffered concussions before they return to play.
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My question is, why has it taken so long for someone to do something about it?
I myself have suffered multiple concussions. It is not a ride on the merry-go-round, that's for sure. My first concussion was from horseback riding, but the following concussions were from basketball. Football is by far the sport most prone to concussions, but the New York Times reported that for sports involving boys or girls, girls' basketball follows football as the sport with the highest rate of brain injuries, according to research by Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Once someone suffers one concussion, that person is four times more likely to sustain a second one. That is something I have to live with for the rest of my life.
Are organizations such as the NFL beginning to tighten the restrictions of allowing concussed players to play simply because of a moral and ethical obligation, or is it because soon Congress and families of deceased players will take action for the irreversible brain damage?
The NFL can take a stand by implementing tougher restrictions on allowing players to return to contact, which could influence policy makers in all sports.
More and more researchers are conducting studies on deceased ex-NFL players' brains to test for a rogue protein, called the tau protein, which causes chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE has been more typically seen in older former athletes and can cause neurobehavioral disorders and bizarre behavior, including suicide.
The NFL football operations executive Ray Anderson told ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" Tuesday that the league will hold players accountable under a "strict liability" standard for illegal hits to the head and neck starting with games this week, saying the league will not apologize for trying to protect players' safety and enforcing the current rules.
Basically, Anderson said it is the players' faults for these devastating hits. I am calling this bullshit.
The players learn to make these hits from coaches, analysts, etc. The league should take steps to preach a different way to hit. Yes, you should punish the players who blatantly take head shots on "defenseless" players, but really, the NFL is to blame for neglecting this appropriate action years ago.
If this sanction had been enacted several years ago, we may have a few more NFL players still around in retirement, instead of those who committed suicide because of the effects of CTE.
Your body can heal a broken limb much more easily than your brain. The NFL needs to stop its "all brawn and no brain" mantra because if younger players continue to hit like their role models do, there may not be anyone left after concussions in the NFL.
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