Archive for Thursday, October 1, 2009

Concussions too often taken lightly

October 1, 2009


Real men don’t shrug off concussions. So if Tim Tebow still wants to be a role model when his head clears, he could start by role modeling for a few of his teammates.

Concussions aren’t just an occupational hazard, no matter how many times football players stubbornly try to convince themselves otherwise.

“Everyone gets concussions. Stuff like that happens,” Florida linebacker Ryan Stamper said after practice Tuesday, marveling at the media circus gathered for an update on Tebow’s condition, and whether the star quarterback would return from last weekend’s concussion in time for the Gators’ Oct. 10 game at LSU.

“I guess because it happened to him everyone is blowing it up,” Stamper added, “but I think he’ll be fine.”

To make his point, the fifth-year senior recalled two concussions he suffered playing at First Coast High in Jacksonville. Both times, Stamper couldn’t remember the play, the hit, how he got back to the sideline or much about the rest of the game. Both times he returned to play the following week.

“There’s just a part of your life,” Stamper said, “that you don’t remember.”

Without a change in the culture, a lot of football players might have to get used to the feeling. No one seems certain whether there are more violent collisions than ever before — as opposed to better reporting — but we know much more about concussions than just a few short years ago. Little of it is good.

Players who rush back or suffer multiple concussions risk serious brain injury as early as their 40s, the result of repeated blows to the head that begin piling up from pee wee football on.

“There’s a ‘code’ players adhere to — get back, finish, win,” Cardinals receiver Sean Morey said Tuesday over the telephone from Arizona. “Your competitive interests outweigh concerns for yourself. ...

“But once you understand the risk, once somebody sits you down and explains the damage cumulative shots to the head cause, you’ve got an obligation to be outspoken and an advocate for not just your peers, but every athlete playing contact sports,” he added. “Tim Tebow can help put this issue in perspective for a lot of people.”

Morey is hardly a soft touch. No one who has made a living returning kicks and playing special teams in the NFL is, let alone someone who’s made it to the Pro Bowl.

But it’s not surprising that he considers Tebow’s setback a “teachable moment.” He sits on the union’s Player Safety and Welfare Committee, and two weeks ago, Morey tried creating a teaching moment of his own. He joined Baltimore’s Matt Birk and Seattle’s Lofa Tatupu as the first active NFL players to announce they’ll donate their brains to a Boston University medical school program studying such injuries.

Researchers there and elsewhere have examined brain tissue culled posthumously from retired NFL athletes and so far have identified six cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a disease previously limited in the medical literature almost exclusively to boxers. One of the tissue samples came from Andre Waters, the hard-hitting former Eagles defensive back who committed suicide in 2006 at age 44 after repeated bouts with depression.


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