Let’s talk about concussions.
I played football for 15 years and let’s just say I saw stars once or twice from being hit so hard.
Football is one of the best things that ever happened to me; however, it may end up affecting me, and my health, in a way I was unaware of while playing. For context, I played from age 8 until the age of 24.
So why all of the head injuries, and eventual brain damage?
There are a couple of reasons.
When you’re playing, there’s an immeasurable amount of pressure on you to perform. If you’ve hit your head, and you have a “stinger,” you’re expected to be back on the field ASAP.
When I was 10, I saw stars for the first time (of many). After the hit, I was wobbly, my coach told me, “You’re either hurt or injured, make your choice!” To put this into context, my coaches would always classify hurt as something like a bruise, something that comes with playing contact sports. An injury on the other hand, that’s something that happens when you physically can’t play (ie. Broken ankle).
So where do concussions lie in this? Hurt or injured?
To your coach, and your teammates you’re presumably being a giant pussy because you’re “hurt.” So nevermind the pressure to be good, the pressure to not be hurt is enough.
In university, I remember sitting around with my roommates, all fellow football players, and talking about how we had a hard time showing emotions like weakness. Football players are conditioned to be tough; when something unfortunate happens don’t bitch about it, work through it. This rhetoric is fine in general settings, but what happens when you can’t tough it out?
This is the question I pose to any football players past and present.
Our identity is so closely locked with how good we are at throwing a ball or tackling someone – this isn’t reality. The reality is football is a gladiator sport, and people eat it up.
2. We Enjoy It
This is something that people outside the game won’t be able to understand. There’s something exhilarating about playing football. Contrary to what you may think, getting hit and hitting people is fun. It’s regulated and organized violence, and us players love it. This is why this sport is still around. If you ask many of the guys I played with about the dangers of the sport, they would tell you that they were aware of the dangers they signed up for. I agree on some level. Football is dangerous, we all know that when we sign up. However, the thoughts around the danger are more linked to a broken hand, or a torn ACL, not concussions.
We’re not aware of how we’re failing players by the constant pressuring of players to cheat concussion tests (believe me it happens), and not tell coaches about injuries to stay in games. Not to mention, have the proper outlets for treatment after playing.
When you’re playing football seriously, it consumes you. All you care about is winning, and you’ll do anything to do it. Even if it’s means jeopardizing your health down the road.
This is the sad truth.
Recently, long-time Pittsburgh Steeler and Superbowl champion, Antwaan Randle El came out and told the world that he has a hard time walking up and down sets of stairs and experiences short term memory loss – almost undoubtedly side effects of playing football.
Randel El’s name is now another that could be potentially mixed in with those diagnosed with CTE such as Seau, Gifford, Belcher and Webster. Except we have no way of knowing for sure currently. CTE can only be diagnosed once a player is deceased.
This causes major concerns for current and ex-players who are still living. For those who haven’t seen it, the Concussion movie which came out in late 2015 highlighted these issues.
I believe we’re just starting the discussion on concussions and their impact in sports, most notably football.
I just hope we keep talking about it.