You can't just walk it off By Elizabeth briSsette

In the last 22 seconds of a hectic and dirty playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals, star wide receiver Antonio Brown, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, got blindsided while attempting to catch a pass. 250 pound Bengal’s linebacker Vontaze Burfict had gone in for the tackle on the side that Brown could not see, hence the term blindside. Brown landed hard on the ground, and hit his head on the turf (which feels more like concrete than it does grass).

Even with the advanced protection of his helmet and pads, he sustained a concussion, and was unable to play in the rest of the game. Not only was he out for what was left of that game, he was also unable to play in the following playoff games. The Steelers went on lose the quarterfinal game against the Denver Broncos.

Now, imagine if this same injury happened to a little boy in his first year of football. While stumbling around the field, he had managed to run into someone on his own team, fall, and get a concussion, even with the brand new pads that were three sizes too big for him. As his father looks on from the sideline, with a twinge of embarrassment inside him, he just thinks to himself, ‘he’s fine, just walk it off, he’ll be fine.’ Little does he know that his son will face the serious consequences of just ‘walking it off’ for the rest of his life.

In fact, continuing to play after you've already sustained one concussion can have fatal effects. Called ‘Second Impact Syndrome’, this condition occurs when one suffers a second concussion before the first one has fully healed. Your brain swells up rapidly and severely, oftentimes having catastrophic results.

In addition, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease that is caused by sustaining repeated concussions (no matter the length in between them). These related blows strongly resemble the daily activities of a football player. One of the worst parts about this is that it can only be diagnosed after death. This disease has become more well-known after the movie Concussion was produced. The movie brings to attention the seriousness of this disease, and how prevalent it is in the NFL.

Concussion, starring Will Smith, is based on the true story of how forensic pathologist Bennett Omalu (played by Will Smith) discovered degeneration in a former NFL player's brain (CTE). This movie entails his journey to "expose the truth" about his newly discovered disease.

You're probably thinking that the chances of these things actually happening is slim, but the incidence is dramatically increasing. Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University studied the popularity of this disease in football players (high school, college, semi-professional, and professional) who donated their brains to the research. They found that 79 percent of all their subjects' brains tested positive for the disease. That's 131 out of the 165 players tested. Of the 1,696 players that are currently playing in the NFL, you can guess how many are affected.

The NFL has been under a microscope regarding this issue after the movie was first shown, so they've made an effort to decrease concussion rates in professional football. They first invested millions of dollars into new, preventative technology like helmets, cushioned turf underlay, and neck/back braces which would all hopefully lessen the physical impact that these players face everyday.

The NFL has also implemented many rules that are meant to protect players from head injuries. First, although seemingly basic, the play is immediately and automatically stopped dead when a player loses his helmet. Also, leading with your head to hit in special circumstances is now illegal (which would also protect the player delivering the hit). Lastly, the consequences and fines that are given as punishment for causing illegal hits have been increased and are being more strongly enforced.

A Buffalo Bills player gets hit by a Miami Dolphin player

Although many preventative measures have been taken in the NFL, only a small portion of that has trickled down to the lower levels of football. Most high school and college teams don't have the funds for this new technology, and the average punishment given for a sleazy hit is a fifteen yard penalty! Some advancements need to occur if we want to nip this problem in the bud (which is the youth football programs).

Ignoring concussions, especially in youth sports, has had devastating effects on the epidemiology of these injuries. “From 2001 to 2012, the rate of ED visits for sports and recreation-related injuries with a diagnosis of concussion or TBI, alone or in combination with other injuries, more than doubled among children (age 19 or younger).”, says the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Additionally, Scott Maier of the University of California San Francisco stated that the rate of concussion among adolescents 10-14 years old increased by 143 percent between 2007 to 2014. He says that this increase is largely due to the influx of participation in youth sports, and the increased awareness of sport-related concussion. Nonetheless, the problem is skyrocketing, and something needs to be done.

This graph shows the increase in concussions from 2000 to 2008

So is playing in the second half of that game really worth the repercussions that will inevitably follow? Is getting that last drill in worth the chronic headache that could result? Is pleasing your coach more important to you than your future? Are you really going to put a sport over your own health?

To the fathers that dream of their sons playing in the NFL someday, think about what's really best for them.

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