Most people have heard about the concussion controversy in the NFL and NCAA, but we generally like that think that a combination of new regulations and continued research breakthroughs will eventually help solve this issue. The recent litigation against the leagues also offers an opportunity for some very big changes for football and player safety in the upcoming years. But, we often forget how important it is to change the culture that contributes to these injuries as well.
There is an assumption that educating athletes as to the risks of brain injury will naturally lead to players more readily reporting issues and stunting the number of players willing to return to the field after a brain injury. However, recent studies in high school athletes shows this isn’t the case, as half of the young athletes questioned said they would hide symptoms to get back onto the field. And these kids have little on the line but their pride.
College level athletes deal with sponsorship considerations, high-stakes games that are watched across the nation, and potential lifelong careers on their shoulders, and when they are facing the possibility of being removed from play for a week (and potentially cut from the team if they have a significant and longer lasting injury), these factors usually heavily affect the end decision.
As NFL.com reported, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett was taking part in the Big 12 media days on Monday when he personally admitted to playing through a mild concussion last season, and his story is far from unusual.
“When I went back into the game I didn’t think about my family, the way my mom would feel if I really got hurt,” Barnett said. “I was thinking about the game and living for the moment. I don’t know what everyone else does, but that’s what I did at the time. […] Everyone does it.”
There has been a lot of discussion about how to better diagnose player injuries on the sidelines and properly manage brain injuries immediately, but there needs to also be a discussion about how we can possibly incentivize players who are forthcoming with brain injuries, or at least remove the very real negative affects that can follow simply telling your coach that “you don’t feel right” after a bad hit.