Lights Out: Inside the Helmet

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Original helmet illustration via NRI.

Authors note: In no way, shape or form am I speaking on this subject in a matter to hurt the game of football. It’s actually quite the opposite. If anything, I am speaking on this matter in hopes to further inform on a very serious matter in football. Concussions should not be taken lightly. Sports-related concussions can be serious or even life-threatening situations if not managed correctly. The information shared in this series has been gathered through hours upon hours of research, and is not based on opinion. None of the student athletes’ names or schools they attended will be released. For inquiries, please email mdeleon@texasredzonereport.com. For more information, read part one of this series. 

In this next installment of this series, we are going to talk to current and former student athletes who have either suffered a concussion or have had a teammate suffer one. All players and teams they play for will remain anonymous, but the insight they have provided is invaluable.

It all started when I saw the movie Concussion staring Will Smith, who portrays Dr. Bennett Omalu, the doctor who helped discover CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). I couldn’t stop thinking about the information provided in the movie and I had to know more. I picked up a copy of the book that the movie was inspired from as well as another book authored by brothers Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada titled “League of Denial.”

Along with reading these books, I’ve spent hours researching CTE and found numerous statistical data sources from all over the world. I wanted to dial in a step further and look at concussions in the state of Texas specifically, since this is where I live and where I cover football on several levels. I reached out to coaches, trainers, players, doctors, app developers and anyone who I thought would have some useful information for me.

I was able to talk to numerous players and asked them all the same questions on the subject of concussions.

The first question I asked the players was “Does anyone at your school, whether on staff or a visitor, ever speak to the team about concussions?”

Yes our coaches give us a concussion awareness speech every year,” one student athlete said. “Our trainers don’t play about player safety. If you showed any signs after a big hit or a hard fall, you were tested,” he continued.

Yes multiple people have talked to us about concussions yearly,” another student athlete mentioned. “We have to take a concussion test prior to starting any type of contact practice. This gives the trainers a kind of baseline to test us later in the year if they feel we have a concussion. We also are given kind of a general explanation of what a concussion is and how to recognize one.

Of the student athletes interviewed, 26 percent of them stated that no one had talked to them or to their team about concussion awareness. I also received two different answers from two student athletes from the same school. One mentioned that they had been talked to, and the other stated no such conversation had taken place. Upon speaking with the student who said they had been talked to, I found out that it was a one-on-one conversation between a trainer and the player.

“It honestly has never been a topic of discussion in my three years there, which is surprising. Especially with so many players that suffered from concussions on our team,” another student athlete recalled. “I’ve never had one, so I’m not sure how the concussion test went. From my knowledge, they had to pass a computer test and then an on-field test before they could return. Also depended on the player and who we were playing that week. If you get a decent amount of playing time, there’s a thick pad they place inside your helmet to help a little bit,” they continued.

My natural curiosity had me wondering about players who did not play as much. “If you don’t play that much, do you get that pad,” I asked. Very quickly, even before I could finish my question they responded, “No, just the regular helmet.”

“That’s definitely the case when it came to (coach). It was 100% business with him. There’s a huge difference between playmakers and those who don’t play,” he continued.

Our conversation continued:

JC: “Did you ever hear of anyone lying about having one because they didn’t want to be pulled from a game or miss any time?”

Student athlete: “Not that I can remember. They could be honest, but the decision was ultimately up to the player if he wanted to play. If you’re injured, they ask if you’re able to compete, and if you say yes you have to play.”

JC: “If you had to guess, how many concussions would you say your team had last year?”

SA: “Maybe around 30 different players throughout the whole season, practice included. Some had multiple concussions.”

40 percent of the student athletes interviewed said they have heard of or even seen someone lie about suffering a concussion so that they would not be pulled from a game, miss any future games or lose their starting position on a team.

“Oh yes, so many times. But I think they keep it a secret from the coaches,” one such student athlete said. “I just don’t think they want to be told they can’t play. Our coaches knew of maybe two, but I know that we had way more.”

“Oh for sure. We all lied about suffering a concussion,” another said. “No one ever wanted to come out of the game or have to sit out any amount of time and miss future games. Especially if it was the playoffs.”

Of all of the student athletes, 46 percent of them said that they have suffered a concussion and suffered symptoms like headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light, loss of balance and blurred vision. Some of them stated that they still suffer some of those symptoms to this day, even though the concussion had happened well over a year (or longer) ago.

However, of the student athletes polled, 76 percent of them said they are informed and educated about concussions and some said they were talked to multiple times throughout the year.

Several stated that the coaches give them an awareness class before each season and offer further education through the school throughout the year.

They also mentioned that there are protocols in place to help them deal with a concussion injury and some schools bring in outside companies to speak to the student athletes.

In part three of this series, I’ll be speaking to several coaches and doctors to get their input.

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