Football is the top cause of concussions in Kansas high school athletics, report shows

photo by: Associated Press

In this Sept. 2, 2015, photo, a football player fills out a baseline test that measures reaction time, attention, memory and stress by completing a series of exercises that involve such things as word recognition in Beverly Hills, Mich. Groves is one of 62 Michigan high schools participating in a unique pilot concussion program that does baseline testing of athletes in football and other sports. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

In Kansas high school athletics, football was the cause of almost half of the reported concussions student athletes suffered last year, and those who played were almost twice as likely to suffer the brain injury than athletes in other sports.

But Dr. Michael Rippee, a sports neurologist for the University of Kansas Health System, told the Journal-World he’s not ready to lead athletes away from the sport.

Concussions in athletics have become a hot topic in recent years. Medical researchers have linked concussions, specifically ones that occur in football players, to degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. But Rippee said the link between CTE and concussions is not yet studied enough to make a definitive decision as it relates to football.

Reports of concussions per athlete

Football, 6.16%

Girls soccer, 3.63%

Wrestling, 2.98%

Cheer, 2.18%

Girls basketball, 2.10%

Boys soccer, 2.05%

Gymnastics, 1.96%

Volleyball, 1.39%

Softball, 0.95%

Boys basketball, 0.75%

Dance, 0.55%

Girls swimming and diving, 0.46%

Baseball, 0.42%

Girls golf, 0.34%

Boys swimming and diving, 0.18%

Girls track and field, 0.08%

Boys golf, 0.08%

Boys track and field, 0.05%

Band, 0.02%

Cross country, 0.01%

“I talk with my athletes, that we need to think about how many times you are putting your head at risk,” he said. “But I’m also cautious. … We don’t want to go too far in either direction in something that we just don’t have enough information.”

The Kansas State High School Activities Association, or KSHSAA, reported in its study on concussions student athletes suffered during the 2018-19 that 903 of the 1,818 concussions happened to football players. The report, which was released Wednesday, is the first of its kind for the organization.

Football was the most common sport where concussions occurred with 6.16% of participating athletes suffering a head injury, which Rippee said is near the national average. However, football’s concussion rate in Kansas is almost two times higher than girls soccer, which reported the second highest rate of athletes suffering concussions at 3.63%.

Additionally, the report showed 17.5% of the athletes who suffered concussions had suffered one before, and another 22% reported they did not know if it was their first concussion or not.

Bill Faflick, executive director of KSHSAA, told the Journal-World he is not surprised football is at the top of his organization’s report.

The report is the first the organization has released since it began requiring all Kansas schools to report all concussions last year. Faflick said the information is important for the organization to have so it can evaluate the best practices and regulations to minimize concussions.

He said the organization’s sports medicine advisory committee will go over the report during its meeting in September and schools are required to report the data again this year.

Although the data on football is important, Faflick said the report highlights the need to address concussions in all activities.

“(Football) is where most of the attention has been nationally and where most of the education has been,” he said. “There has been a lot of focus, in that regard, but we are looking at all activities.”

Rippee, who researches and provides medical care on concussions, urged caution when looking at the report’s data because football is not the only sport dealing with the concussion issue. He said the report shows wrestling, soccer and basketball all have students who suffer concussions as well.

“It’s definitely not a football-only issue,” he said. “In football, you can’t ignore and say it’s not an issue, but it’s certainly not the only (sport).”

Although Rippee acknowledged football is often at the top of the list for the cause of concussions, calling it a “high-risk” sport, he said other sports are not immune to the problem. If Kansas offered high school hockey, it would likely be near the top with football, he said.

“We don’t want to go in the direction and say everybody should stop playing football because (CTE) is linked to football,” Rippee said. “We think it’s linked to concussions and we think repetitive hits to the head can certainly increase risk of that, but we really just don’t know. It’s not been studied in enough depth and breadth to have a good idea of what the risk is and how high the risk is.”

However, high school football has seen a decline in participation in recent years, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. The organization reported football has seen a decline in participation each of the last five years, which led to the 2018-19 school year as the first decline in national overall high school athletics participation in 30 years, according to a report released Aug. 26.

Although Rippee said he isn’t ready to make a definitive decision, he commended KSHSAA for requiring schools to report instances of concussions. He said the data could help researchers better understand the issue and lead to better decision-making in regards to minimizing concussion risks.

“It’s what’s going to help us better understand this issue,” he said of the report. “It’s a great idea they are doing this. … We can get some really robust data out of it.”

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