Super Bowl 50 may have surprised many with the Broncos’ victory over the heavily  favored Panther’s, but not so shocking was the concussion sustained by Panther’s leading wide receiver Corey Brown. Brown wasn’t alone though, Bronco’s line backer Shaquil Barrett also suffered a concussion during the game – neither player returning after failing the concussion evaluation protocol. 

As spectators of America’s most popular sport, we are sadly immune to the injuries inflicted on players during a game.  But as of late, at least the head injuries are making it into the headlines as well as our conversations regarding the sport.  And with the recent release of the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who took on the National Football League (NFL) with his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain damage suffered by professional football players, the football head injury discussions have only intensified.

Just last week, Pennsylvania High School Senior and talented football player, John Castello, made international headlines with his shocking decision to turn down nearly a dozen football scholarship offers, including Holy Cross, citing major concerns over brain injuries as the reason for his decision.  The issue of Football leading to brain injuries has gained momentum over recent years with medical research exposing the dangers of the sport to the brain and the long term ramifications.  The deaths of many ex- NFL playersnow attributed to brain disease, and manymore former and current players being diagnosed with brain injuries, has prompted a huge controversy in our nation regarding the all American pastime and it’s real dangers.

This controversy exists not only with our famous professional athletes, but perhaps more personally with our own young aspiring athletes at home.  More and more parents are expressing concern about the safety of the sport for their children and as evidenced by Castello’s own decision, the young athletes themselves are becoming very aware of the implications of what playing this sport can mean for their future health.

As with most diseases, prevention is key.  And naturally the best way to avoid brain injuries is to avoid doing the things that put you at risk for getting one.  Yet, despite the warnings and constant flow of research circulating the media regarding brain injuries, some folks enjoy the sport way too much to deprive the next generation from playing it.  Some youth players have already developed a passion for the sport and not playing is out of the question.  For some, they view the sport as their opportunity perhaps for a brighter future.  And since football organizations are not changing the way the game is played tomorrow, the best approach to keep our kids safe is to protect them as best we can from what we know can happen.

Obviously helmets help and must always be worn in the game, but recently technology is also helping to shape the way we can protect our young players.  Several apps have been developed to test players for concussions immediately on the sideline.  Although there is no substitute for seeking immediate professional medical treatment, these apps are useful in helping to assess consciousness and common concussion symptoms. Some of these apps have built-in timers to test for cognitive function and balance. Reports can be e-mailed to a healthcare provider at the end of the questionnaire, to help prepare them for the incoming patient. One app is designed for the athletic trainers, coaches, and health personnel; reports can be sent to the physician, in turn, physicians can notify the coaches and sports league of patient reports, and send information on when the athlete can return to play. For more on these apps click here. (more on these apps in a future blog)

As many of us recover from the Super bowl festivities, we should not forget to think about what these athletes are actually putting their bodies AND brains through and what their recovery looks like.  And though the issue requires far more thought than that, at the very least we need to ensure that we are using the data and research medical experts have worked very hard to obtain, to help guide us in making decisions that are best for our children’s health and futures.