Could the Rise of Concussions in Football mean the Downfall of the Sport?

I wrote this paper for my grad school class on Monday. I will quickly admit that three pages doesn’t do the subject justice. It is an interesting subject that has been on the rise in the news lately with football league after football league setting new concussion precautions.

This is something I intend to write more about. I find great interest in it. Without any further ado here is what I wrote:

Is the Occurence of Concussions Getting to the Point Where Football’s Place in the World Should be Evaluated

With the start of a new football season there is a new emphasis placed on diagnosing and recovery time for concussions. From the NFL to pee wee football leagues, new precautions have been added for concussions. The days of Brett Favre getting a concussion and coming back in two plays later to throw a touchdown pass that he can’t remember doing(Borzi, 2004) are over. As technology in football has improved the game with better equipment, bigger, faster and stronger athletes and improved strategies the number of concussions seems to be on the rise. But have the number of concussion in football really gone up or is it that we finally understanding the human brain better and can better diagnose concussions. And if concussion and their symptoms are growing to terrifying levels will football continue as the sport of choice for young boys or will it be just too dangerous to warrant competing?

In a study in the state of Minnesota in 1983 researchers looked at the number of concussions incurred by high school football players. Using roughly 20 percent of the schools in the state, researchers were able to get a large sampling size of football players with 3,802 completing the survey (Goodwin Gerberich, Priest, Boen, Straub, & Maxwell, 1983). The survey took a basic question determining an injury was any loss of time participating in any regular activity. From there the results went to narrow down the injuries with a focus on questions about concussions or concussion like symptoms.

The results of the study found 74 concussions and 507 additional cases with concussion like symptoms but were not diagnosed as a concussion (Goodwin Gerberich, et al., 1983 p. 1371). With the diagnosed concussion and concussion like symptoms added together Goodwin Gerberich, et al. 19 percent of high school football players in the state of Minnesota suffered a concussion in the 1977 season (1983).

That study was done nearly three decades ago. With more advanced technology, it would suggest that concussions have gone down but recent articles in the media have suggested that the number of concussions is on the rise. In a 2007 study researchers looked at the amount of concussions and injuries total among high school and college students for the 2005-2006 season (Gessel, Fields, Collins, Dick, & Comstock, 2007). Using that data from 100 high schools studied and extrapolating it to every high school football team nationwide they estimated 55,007 concussions occurred during the 2005 season (p. 497).

According to data from the National Federation of High School Associations there were 1,072,948 participants in the 2005-2006 school year (2009). With the estimate of 55,007 concussions from the Gessel, et al. study in 2007 that means 19 percent of athletes suffered a concussion during the season. The same number as reported in the Goodwin Gerberich, et al. study in 1983. This provides evidence that supports that concussions are not on the rise in the country with two studies nearly a quarter century a part showing the same number of concussions.

The Goodwin Gerberich, et al. study took a much broader definition of a concussion very similar to the one used today to determine who really had a concussion instead of the reported numbers using the diagnosis techniques used in 1977 (1983, p. 1371). So while there are more concussions reported now the true number of concussions doesn’t appear to have changed.

While the number of concussions doesn’t appear to have changed, what we know about concussions and its long term affects have changed. In 2009 an article in The New York Times pointed out new research that brain damage commonly seen in former boxers was showing up in former NFL players and even some who stopped playing football in college (Schwarz). According to the article a study of eight former NFL players who died between the ages of 36 and 52 showed all eight suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that is only known to be caused by head trauma. The disease while affecting the cortex of the brain kills brain cells used in executive function and mood moderation (Schwarz, 2009).

The parallel of the injury being commonly found in boxers is important. The thought of whether or not football should be played seems farfetched but boxing was once a common intercollegiate sport. The University of Wisconsin was a powerhouse winning eight national titles. In 1960, a senior boxer for the Badgers named Charlie Mohr died after a fight at the NCAA Championships. Soon after professors at the University of Wisconsin rallied and had boxing dropped as an intercollegiate sport. The NCAA followed suit before the 1961 season (Weinreb, 2010). Boxing has already seen its demise. Football may be staring at the same situation in the future. It is no lie that football is brutal. The Sports Legacy Institute and the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy are still researching the link between football players and CTE (Schwarz, 2009). When all the facts about post-concussion symptoms come to light, will people still think the risk of injury is worth it to play football?

While concussions have been growing in the number reported their true number appears to be staying the same. New technology has had little impact in keeping the brains of football players safe. New information about the affects of football playing years after the helmet and shoulder pads have been removed has raised concerns about how much damage football really does. Boxing went from a sport commonly found in schools across America to something relegated to background. While it still may be a long ways off football may be headed to a similar fate.

References

Borzi, Peter (2004, Oct. 4). Favre’s Concussion adds to Packers Woes. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/04/sports/football/04packers.html?_r=1.

Gessel, L.M., Fields, S.K., Collins, C.L., Dick, R.W., & Comstock, R.D. (2007). Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 42(4) 495-503. Retrieved from PubMed Central database. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2140075/pdf/i1062-6050-42-4-495.pdf.

Goodwin Gerberich, S., Boen, J., Straub, C., & Maxwell, R. (1983). Concussion Incidences and Severity in Secondary School Varsity Football Players. American Journal of Public Health, 73(12), 1370. Retrieved from Business Source Premier database. http://0-web.ebscohost.com.topcat.switchinc.org/ehost/detail?vid=7&hid=106&sid=24f7717d-379d-4d06-ba42-7a002db0710a%40sessionmgr104&bdata=JmxvZ2luLmFzcCZzaXRlPWVob3N0LWxpdmU%3d#db=buh&AN=4948866.

National Federation of High Schools Associations (2009). Participation Statistics: 2005-2006, Football-11. Retrieved from http://www.nfhs.org/Participation/HistoricalSearch.aspx.

Schwarz, Allen (2009, Oct. 21). Concussion Trauma Risk Seen in Amateur Athlete. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/sports/ncaafootball/22concussions.html?scp=1&sq=nfl%20concussions&st=cse.

Weinreb, Michael (2010, Apr. 16). The tragic story of Charlie Mohr. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved from http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/the_bonus/04/16/mohr/index.html.

The Thin Gray Line Between Sport and Spectacle

Almost a year ago in my advanced nonfiction writing class I questioned whether Sport was a valuable expenditure of my time. I was always fond of the philosopher Socrate. He said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So I started to examine. I had spent the better part of fifteen years involved in Sport in various capacities. I looked at whether I cared too much about Sport or too little about everything else. I had classmates thinking I hated Sport and everything to do with it. That I had wasted my childhood. The truth was for a week I had taken up that thought process. What I found out was that I couldn’t hold that thinking. I hadn’t wasted my life at all. I did love Sport. Separation makes the heart grow fonder.

That worked fine. I love Sport. Even went to graduate school to get a Masters of Science in Sports Management. All the classes are centered around Sport. I just had my third class a little over 24 hours ago. A question came up that I am now stuck on and is the reason I am writing. “Do you love the Sport or the Spectacle?” The answer, “I love Sport.” is my gut reaction but if actual thought is given to the answer it becomes much more complicated.

In Ancient Greece they competed in Sport for the reason of competing in Sport. It was to honor the gods on Mt. Olympus. Its ideals are behind what the Olympic ideal is today. The honor isn’t in winning but in being able to compete. Greeks would come from all over the countryside to watch athletes push themselves to the limit in speed, strength, dexterity, strategy and so forth.

Then Rome took over. Rome was a little more intense. Watching the transition from Greek Sport to Roman Sport is a scary parallel to what is happening in the past 200 years. Rome placed these events in bigger arenas. The bigger crowds fed into a larger than life atmosphere. Competing wasn’t enough anymore. It was now important to win. And the Romans knew how to get that point across. Win or die was the philosophy as Sport now required blood shed. Crowds would get into it determining who lives and who dies. Club seats lined the Coliseum serving the best wine to the richest patrons.

The Romans had turned Sport into a Spectacle. The Sport is just a part of it the larger event going on. Go to an NBA game today and you’ll see the same shit going on. The game is as important if not secondary to the fireworks and laser light show for player introductions, the dance team and the guy in animal suit shooting T-Shirts out of air cannon.

Ask yourself this question and honestly think about it, “Would you rather have baseball without a steroid policy or what we have now?” While the quick response is “What we have now” if people dwell on it a lot of people would start to lean toward no steroid policy. Homeruns are down. We’ll never see another McGuire, Sosa or Bonds type season again. Pitchers have ruled the season. No-hitters are almost standard fare now.

Every time attendance has started to dip because scoring was too low various professional leagues have changed the rules to increase scoring. Major League Baseball lowered the pitching mound and American League went so far as to add the designated hitter to save the pitcher the embarrassment of trying to swing a bat. The NFL limited contact with wide receivers to within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Back in Johnny Unitas’s day receivers were being mugged all over the field. The NHL started to allow two-line passing so teams could move the puck through the neutral zone quicker and get more breakaway and 2-on-1 or 3-on-2 opportunities.

The point is no longer to compete but to win and win big. A winning record isn’t good enough. A championship is necessary. Taking first in the race can be topped. We need to see a record.

So athletes push themselves. They will go as far as their bodies can take. Sometimes farther. Sometimes by immoral or illegal means. With competing no longer being enough athletes have to cross the twin gray line in to the shady or down right dark areas of life.

The vast majority of Major Leaguers that used steroids would still be in The Show without steroids. But a lot of them wouldn’t have reached the same achievements they have without the help of steroids. But competing isn’t enough any more.

College recruits go to prep schools that are little more than diploma factories just so they can qualify for college under the NCAA’s “harsh” qualifying standards for student-athletes. The recruit can’t waste time on studying; there is a recruit on the opposite side of the country working on his mid-range jumper as we speak.

While those two examples are easy to see the problems with sometimes the issues aren’t as easy to see. Last season I had hip problems. My right hip was in pain after every run. It started near the end of September. Some days were better than others. I didn’t say anything. I just kept plugging away until after track ended in the middle of May. I run a lot less now and the pain is still there, Even just a long day at work can bring it back. Looking back I believe it was worth it. Will I think that in ten years if this is still a problem? I don’t know.

Some people have gone further. Taking the field again after yet another concussion. Playing on through a torn ACL. Taking painkillers to ignore your body to yell stop. Destroying your gastrointestinal system to run with a few less pounds. Destroying your gastrointestinal system to block with a few more pounds. Not taking heart medication because it makes you slower on the court. Repairing tendons in your foot again and risking losing feeling in your foot to fly over the hurdles yet again. Exercising yourself past the point of exhaustion and the exercising some more because you can’t stand the thought of someone out preparing you.

Sport has slowly turned toward what the Romans had developed with life and death hanging in the balance. The fans in the stands don’t scream for an athlete’s death but do expect him to run fast on the ragged edge of life and death if that’s what it takes to win the game.

I always have looked at sacrificing your body for your team as an admirable quality. Just rub some dirt on it you’ll be fine mentality. Or the pain is temporary, glory is forever mentality. The masculine thinking of where death is better than cowardice. Up until a few days ago I believed this was a good trait. This was the tue essence of Sport. Sacrificing yourself. But is the sacrifice happening because of the ever need to win. To reach a bigger stage and ignore all else on the way there.

That’s not to say winning isn’t important. It should be considered important. That is the nature of competiton. Testing one’s self against the competiton and no one wants to fail. But why are we willing to sacrifice a normal living for the rest of our days for something. that will not be done the latter 75% of our lives? While there has to be a certain willingness to fight through pain to compete when do we say it just isn’t worth it anymore? When do we cross that line that separates playing through pain and destroying That line can’t be determined with a wide brush with one answer fitting everybody.

I know the morally correct answer to the question, “Do you love the Sport or do you love the Spectacle?” The Sport. The honor of competing. But I harbor beliefs that Sport should be on the biggest stage. And that people should risk life and limb while competing to win the game if that’s what it will take. I now question whether it is really worth it.

I want to say I love the Sport. But I fear I love the Spectacle. Ask yourself the same question and actually think about it.

Two Second Place Finishes

The rain has started again on I-72 going through Illinois toward Springfield. We’re stopping there to eat and the headed home.

Both men’s and women’s teams were able to finish second in the team standings. The women finish there like clockwork chasing down Monmouth College. For the men it is their highest finish in nearly a decade.

Lindsey Gruenke and Megan O’Grady were able to win Track Performers of the Meet. This is the first meet I remember since O’Grady got to college that she didn’t race Jenny Scherer in a single race at the Midwest Conference Meet.

Coach Thielitz received Men’s Co-Coach of the Year. A fitting honor. When I saw the standings last night we were seventh and in a huge hole. I couldn’t even tell you how we took second. There were so many points left out there when things didn’t go right. It seemed like it was happening very often. But somethings went incredibly right. James Wankowski somehow won the Discus Throw. And Kevin Meyer somehow squeaked out a point in the 5000m Run. Somehow we pulled it off. And we did it away from our home track.

The women did great as well as they always do. St. Norbert put up another fight for second but the women’s team held steady at #2.

Now that my final meet is over I think the thing that I’ll miss the most is yelling split times to my teammates. Seeing them succeed. I never had a chance out there to be all-conference but they do.

Now my voice is hoarse but I couldn’t care less. It will proably return.

The hard part is coming having to say good-bye to everyone. I already had to say good-bye to two people, Stretch and Jay. Tonight there will be more.

I never cried when basketball ended. Or cross country or track in high school. It was sure. Still sad when I think about. But I was never close to those teams like this one. Our varsity basketball coach said we were the closest tight-knit team he had coach in 25+ years. That team was nothing like this one. This is a close team. The thought of not seeing these people on a daily basis is heartbreaking.

That is why this team is so dangerous going forward. They are willing to go to the ends of the earth for one another. The snowball has started and it will just continue to build in the right hands and I believe that it is in the right hands. And in time I see this team as taking down Monmouth’s empire.

We’re about to eat so I’ll end this before it gets sappy. But I will say this, this is my favorite team that I have ever been a part of and I am so proud of them. I will miss all of them dearly.

Day Two

A view of the track from the fitness center. This my view for lunch yesterday.

The Night In Between Days

We now sit in seventh place overall on the men’s side. We always start out slow. I remember one year we were in last after the first day. We only have results from a quarter of the events though.

Sprints did pretty good so we should score a bunch of points in tomorrow in that. I would love to sneak out a second place finish. It will be tough but if things break right I think we can do it.

Personally this is going to be my final day as a Carroll Pioneer tomorrow. The end is nearing for me as the last truly competitive race will be the Walleye Run June 12th in Fond du Lac. It will be fitting to have my final race in my hometown. One last run to see how fast I can complete the five mile race in and how high I can finish. Looking at last year’s results top ten might be possible.

I’m still upset with how my race played out today but what Zach Andreski told me earlier today was true. “Two out of three ain’t bad.” I had unbelievable finishes to my cross country and indoor careers.

As distance runners we are requires to peak three times a year. That is incredibly hard to do. I was able to do it twice which is the limit to what most bodies can do in a year. I wasn’t able to pull one last rabbit out of the hat but I pulled two more than I thought with my race at regionals in November and Indoor conference in February.

Tomorrow I will wake up and I will root my team on to the best finish possible. I might be done running but I’m not done being a teammate.

The other three guys in my room have to race tomorrow so I will wrap this up here. Talk to you tomorrow.

First Thoughts After the Race

My first thoughts after my last race in a Carroll uniform. I ran a 39:43. My worst 10K time of the year but better than any 10K before 2010. Nonetheless I was upset with myself and how my body wouldn’t let me run faster.

It was a tough pill to swallow knowing that I’m done and it wasn’t a great race to go out on. It’s still a tough pill to swallow. It’s been great running for the orange and white these past four years.
Everyone who says cherish every moment is absolutely correct. It’s just 90 minutes after the race and there is nothing I wouldn’t give to have another race in a Carroll uniform. If you are still competing take advantage of every moment because it goes way too fast. When the hourglass is out of sand, it’s out of sand.

Sprint trials are going on right now for about another 45 minutes. Then we’ll be headed back to Springfield for supper.

Just Three Hours Before Race Time

I’m lying here on a couch trying to calm my nerves and conserve energy. I’m down a hall away from where everything is happening. Looking at my phone before writing this I realized what day it is, May 14.

Just six months ago was Midwest Regional for Cross Country. I said earlier that there is no such thing as a perfect race but that may have been perfect. The weather was excellent for running. I felt loose and I left it all on the line knowing I wouldn’t race again. I’m trying to remember how I felt then and get in the same state of mind. The problem is I can’t remember what that state of mind was.

I’ve had an incredible year and now I am one race away from having a great ending. My last cross country race I PR’d. My last indoor race I PR’d. Now I have my last outdoor race. Can I do it again?