When people think about traumatic brain injuries in football, they typically imagine highlight reel worthy collisions or spectacular tackles. Few realize even the most routine hits could trigger a life-threatening injury.
A California high school football player provided the world with an unfortunate reminder of this reality recently, after he had to be placed in a medically induced coma and undergo surgery to reduce swelling in his brain after a traumatic brain injury.
Late in the fourth quarter of the season opener for Fortuna High School, Bailey Foley began to have cramps on the sidelines. These cramps quickly progressed to seizures, before he could be taken to a hospital. There, doctors found signs of a traumatic brain injury and dangerous brain swelling.
There was no single moment that can be blamed for the injury – no massive tackles, clumsy falls, or clear hits to the head. Even after reviewing the game footage, coach Mike Benbow says there was nothing out of the ordinary.
“We didn’t know what happened,” Foley’s mother, Tara Johnson, told the Press Democrat. “The severity of the seizure wasn’t known until he got to the hospital.”
The extent of the injury is still not fully known. The doctors say they won’t be able to fully assess the damage until the swelling goes down.
Sadly, injuries like this are not all that uncommon in football. While people worry about the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the risks from repeated concussions, many forget the risk for more severe brain injuries. Every year players lose their lives from “routine plays” and tackles that cause severe traumatic brain injuries – such as Ben Hamm, a football player from Wesleyan Christian School in Bartlesville Oklahoma.
Hamm’s story is similar in many ways to Foley’s. After a “routine play”, the linebacker went into seizures on the sidelines and was rushed to a Tulsa hospital. There, he had multiple surgeries to relieve pressure on his brain. Tragically, Hamm died eight days after his injury.
It is true that most concussions are minor, but even the “smallest” concussions come with real risks of lifelong brain disease. However, those aren’t the only types of brain injuries that can happen on the field. Some can cause severe disability, physical health problems, and even death.