Football is notorious for the “tough guy” culture.
No one playing college or professional football wants to admit they are hurt. After all, this is their career. In many cases, football players that do report injuries find themselves being replaced and a spot no longer available for them when they are able to return.
For that reason, players continue to go to games and practices despite their injuries. They do not report head injuries or symptoms in order to stay on the field.
While players might forgo reporting their injuries, is it their fault? In reality, it is the league who is at fault. They know their players are going to be hurt, and anyone who has played a game of tackle football knows the risks of injury. Instead, it is about how long it will take before your next injury and the severity of that injury.
The NCAA and other professional football organizations are now facing a complicated task: to encourage players to report their injuries and to stop the notion that players need to continue through the pain and ignore serious symptoms.
One reason players need not to fear to report injuries is the fact that head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have officially been connected. CTE, a degenerative brain disease, can lead to a variety of symptoms and in some cases become life-threatening.
The league should be informing players that concussions are not the same as sprained ankles and not allow players to continue through the pain. While a player could easily get back out on the field after a concussion, the league needs to take responsibility and stop them from doing so.
Players do not receive education about the risks of playing with a concussion, and getting them to report head trauma is equally difficult when they fear replacement.
Eliminating contact or the risk of head trauma in football or even hockey is not going to happen. These contact sports ultimately lead to heat trauma. However, the leagues could take steps to make the game safer, not promote traumatic tackles, and ensure players know the risk of playing the game.
With the lawsuits piling up for major, minor, and college sporting leagues, it is obvious that these groups need to establish guidelines for educating their players about the risks of head trauma and continuing to play after suffering a concussion. Sadly, these leagues are aware of the risks, and some give only a little information to players about the risks of continuing.
The reasons athletes might not report their injuries can vary, but some include:
Another reason players do not report these injuries is they do not know the future. They are unsure of what will happen if they do tell someone they are injured. The leagues need to tell players how they will treat them and what they can expect for their careers. The fear of the unknown can easily deter someone from reporting a serious injury.
Instead of emphasizing the consequences of reporting, leagues should focus more on the consequences of not reporting their injury.
It is not just the league; players are also misinformed when it comes to their future. Many players say they know what they are signing up for when they play hockey or football. But no one asks those players what it is they think they have signed up for. Most players are unaware of the true, long-term effects of CTE – including how it could change their retirement years completely.
Also, some people are under the assumption that the game is safer now that leagues are aware of CTE. Even PR departments will say that they have taken measures to make the game safer. However, when past players are interviewed about steps taken to make the game safer, many of them could not tell you how they could do their job safer or methods taught to them to make it safer.
There is a misconception that players have insight into the risks, but they are still vulnerable. They are getting their information from doctors in the league and administration – the parties that profit from players continuing in the game.
One player stated that after making 400 tackles in his career, he never learned once how to do it safely. Instead, in his opinion, the “safer than ever” claims are far from the truth and nothing more than a PR department line.
While it is true that leagues have looked for ways to reduce hitting, including how much contact is allowed in the game and during practice, games like hockey and football can never be truly safe. The only way to stay safe from injuries associated with these sports is to not play them at all – something that is not an option for players already earning a living in them.
Coaches are a critical aspect in informing players. They are the party responsible for promoting players to come forward with injuries and to help prevent them. After all, coaches are highly influential in the player’s lives. They should be there for tactical, technical, and health information.
Sadly, research has found that coaches do not even know how necessary it is to protect their players from concussions. Another study found that coaches were unclear about the signs and symptoms of a concussion, what to do, and when to release players back onto the field following head trauma.
Coaches at all levels – not just professional – need more information about concussions and CTE. While they might work full-time along with team doctors, they are unaware of the consequences of a concussion and most do not even know the symptoms of a concussion.
Most coaches learn about concussions through experience rather than from formal training. They might even read it in sports media, but their leagues rarely educate them. Some countries have implemented training modules. Take Canada, for example. They have the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) that established a series of online training modules for coaches focusing on concussions.
However, to become accredited in the country, coaches are not required to take the training.
Some independent sporting leagues in other countries, like the Australian Football League, have detailed information about concussion management. Others have player health, but little to no information about concussions.
One step leagues should consider is a coaching certification that requires that a certified coach first complete concussion and head trauma safety training.
Coaches are the first line of defense when a player is injured. They should know when a player is suffering from head trauma, and they should know the symptoms of a serious injury.
Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury (TBI), which stem from a direct hit to the head or indirect force that transmits to the head (like whiplash).
Concussions have multiple effects, including psychological, cognitive, and physical. Players might feel dizzy, nauseous, irritable, suffer from balance issues, or have problems sleeping. Most concussion symptoms resolve in two weeks. But the more injuries a player sustains, or if they are in poor health, the longer a concussion could stick around.
Repeated concussions not only take longer to heal but increase the chances a player will suffer from depression and anxiety, too.
One study found that concussions occurring in players under the age of 18 took even longer to heal. Therefore, coaches on the high school level should watch out for warning signs, be more proactive with their player’s recovery, and not abide by a strict two-week rule.
Before participating in school sports, students’ parents are often required to sign a consent waiver as a condition of participation. These waivers state that the parent cannot sue the school or league for negligence or injuries.
While this might prevent someone from suing for ordinary negligence, schools and leagues are not immune from lawsuits.
Schools and sports leagues are required to keep sports free of unnecessary risks. A league cannot exempt themselves from liability for injuries among their participants. And when injuries are not inherent to the sport, family members and the victim have the right to file a lawsuit.
While a concussion might be inherent in the sport of hockey or football, repeated head trauma is not. The league or school organization should know the symptoms and report repeated trauma. Furthermore, they should remove an athlete from the game after they have suffered a concussion and not allow their return until they have passed medical screenings.
Organizations can be held liable for failing to remedy a known danger promptly – such as allowing a player back onto the field after suffering head trauma.
Whether you lost a loved one to a brain injury or you are the victim of a league and coach that failed to protect you from serious injury, you have the right to receive compensation for your losses. Brain injuries are more than just upfront treatment. They often require long-term medical care that can cost thousands out-of-pocket and quickly exhaust insurance benefits.