It's everywhere you turn: Concussions...football...Is it safe to play?
As I've stated in one of my previous blog posts, football has become the proverbial poster child of late when it comes to concussions. And misinformation about this topic abounds.
In this age of instant access to information, moms everywhere are doing what has seemingly become natural: taking to a search engine to find answers.
Hey, I'm not bashing here. I do the same thing.
Just the other day I Googled if evening primrose oil is safe to consume while nursing, but I should have chosen to consult my physician before taking the word of some unknown Web site.
And the same goes for contact sports and concussions.
Did you know that the number one cause of concussions among youth is bike riding?
Gym and recess are a close second.
But we rarely, if ever, hear a parent say, "I'm not letting my child participate in gym or recess, oh, and I'm taking their bike away...just to be safe."
But the aforementioned refrain has become common when it comes to football.
Here's the thing: It's no secret that, as an NFL wife and a blogger for both the NFL and USA Football, I support the notion of children engaging in youth football, particularly if the program follows the safety guidelines that have been established by USA Football.
But please allow me to state for the record that this post was not written to convince parents to allow their child to play football.
If a parent learns the facts and decides that football -- or any contact sport, for that matter -- is still not for their child, I respect that.
What makes me uncomfortable, however, is when parents are not properly informed, and stand firm in their decision anyway.
I recently had the immense pleasure of sitting in on an NFL Skype chat led by Elizabeth Pieroth, PsyD, ABPP, a mother of three and a board certified neuropsychologist and associate director of the Sports Concussion Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Illinois, and Chris Golic, also a mother of three and a member of the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee and national spokesperson for USA Football’s Protection Tour. She is also the wife of Mike Golic, a former NFL defensive lineman and the current co-host of ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike. (In addition to having our involvement with USA Football in common, both of our husbands worked together several years ago on NutriSystem's NFL Get Back in the Game campaign.)
Here are a few highlights of our discussion which revolved around concussion safety awareness...
Where can parents learn more information on football safety and concussion awareness?
In addition to USAFootball.com, many might be surprised to know that the Center for Disease Control is also a fantastic resource, which also provides mass quantities of information (i.e pamphlets) upon request. Additional reliable sites include Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and NFL Evolution.
What are the symptoms and signs of a concussion, and what's the difference between the two?
Signs are what an onlooker (i.e. parent or coach) observes, while symptoms are what the athlete himself experiences. Signs include: Being slow to respond, wobbling, not remembering things, and a change in personality; the latter is not often talked about, but is a huge red flag that something is wrong. Symptoms include: Dizziness, blurred vision, being bothered by light and/or sound, and headaches. What's important to note here, however, is that headaches can also be caused by a myriad of things, including dehydration and neck pain -- neck pain that may not be caused by a concussion.
How do other sports handle concussions?
Concussions are capable of happening in a variety of sports, not just football. In fact, according to the CDC, concussions can occur in any sport or recreation activity. But one NFL blogger who participated in this chat stated that, with regard to her son's football team, clear-cut protocols have been put in place with regard to what is done if it is believed that a player has suffered a concussion. But she noticed that, on the other hand, the same couldn't be said for her daughter's cheerleading squad. Therefore, Dr. Pieroth stressed that it is important for parents to be proactive: Inquire about concussion protocols and discuss concussion awareness with all of your children's coaches -- before anything happens.
Fact: Concussion Laws have been established for all 50 states.
Beginning in 2009, the state of Washington passed the first concussion in sports law, and one month later, the second passed in Oregon. Between 2009 and 2013, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia, passed laws on concussions in sports for youth and/or high school athletes. These are often called Return to Play laws.
Most concussion in sports laws include three action steps:
- Educate Coaches, Parents, and Athletes: Inform and educate coaches, athletes, and their parents and guardians about concussion through training and/or a concussion information sheet.
- Remove Athlete from Play: An athlete who is believed to have a concussion is to be removed from play right away.
- Obtain Permission to Return to Play: An athlete can only return to play or practice after at least 24 hours and with permission from a health care professional.
For more information on these laws, click here.
When is it safe for a child to make the switch from flag football to tackle football?
Dr. Pieroth explained that "the research simply isn't there," so there's no one-size-fits-all reply to that answer. "We just don't know yet," she said. She went on to say that it basically boils down to what parents and players are comfortable with, because "comfort level with regard to risk is extremely personal." For starters, a child's size is one factor to consider -- but not for the reason one might think: For example, weight restrictions exist within youth football leagues so as to prevent an unfair advantage. Therefore, the impact a seven-year-old child might experience is in no way akin to the impact an NFL player would receive while playing. That said, playing football at any age requires that a child possess the proper neck strength to wear a helmet. (Pick up a helmet and see for yourself; they're quite heavy.)
What's the primary factor which influences a football team as a whole?
Golic tackled this question, and I absolutely loved her response: "The number one influence is how a coach approaches practice," she said. And this is why enrolling a youth football player into a USA Football Heads Up-certified program is so important: Both athletes and parents alike are educated on proper football techniques and protocols from the very beginning, and athletes and parents can have those same expectations all the way through high school because parents can be secure in the knowledge that safety is the top priority.
The benefits of allowing children to participate in athletics is innumerable.
Despite the risks, research has shown that youth who participate in sports are, not surprisingly, healthier and have a lower risk of obesity. But that is far from the only advantage. Said Golic, "Student athletes have lower rates of truancy and higher GPAs." And many believe these trends are likely to carry over into college, should participation in athletics continue. According to the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), nearly four out of five student-athletes earn their diplomas on time, an all-time high, and federal statistics show athletes are still more likely to graduate on time than other students.
So that, in a nutshell, is what we discussed during our first NFL Blogger Skype chat.
Stay-tuned for my next one.
You know I'll be blogging about it...