By Maggie Franke

In recent years, mentioning sport can hardly come without a discussion about concussions and head injuries. Few know the full story about the development of this issue or even what concussions officially are, and for sports enthusiasts and non-fans alike.

The NFL has been under investigation for over 30 years by members of the organization itself and concerned parties outside of it in regards to the dangers that players face when playing American-style football. The truth is, football is a sport where concussions are all too common. According to CNN, Art Monk, Tony Dorsett, Jim McMahon, and Jamal Anderson are some of the people suing the NFL over concussion-related issues. But why is a hit to the head so serious and why should it matter when it comes to sports? The players know and choose to take the risk, right?

The fact is that not everyone knows what makes concussions such a major problem in sport or what the risk really is. Many do not even know what chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is or what it means. The information is rarely put before people clearly enough to understand, but it is important to understand the very basics about concussions to see beneath the impact it has had on sport within recent history.

What is a concussion?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a concussion is, “a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance, and coordination.” The answer seems simple enough, but the implications are anything but simple. The Mayo Clinic notes that concussions are typically a result of a “blow to the head,” but can also be caused by shaking of the upper body and head area.

How are concussions diagnosed?

The Mayo Clinic diagnoses concussions based on a number of symptoms that include but are not limited to headache, temporary loss of consciousness, confusion or brain-fog feeling, amnesia after a traumatic head impact, dizziness, seeing stars, ears ringing, nausea, vomiting, speech impairment, dazed feeling, fatigue and delayed response to questions. Most importantly, it is critical to note most concussions do not result in a loss of consciousness. Also, there are symptoms that can emerge long after the concussion initially occurs: concentration or memory complaints, irritability, sensitivity to light and noise, disruptions in sleep, psychological adjustment problems, depression and impairments to taste or smell.

THAT is a mouthful of symptoms. The truth is that there are so many different symptoms and signs for concussions that make it very difficult to diagnose initially, and many players and coaches do not even know when to undergo concussion protocol. According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, it is estimated that half of all concussions are not diagnosed at all. Well-renowned healthcare facilities take concussions very seriously, and yet there is still so much unknown about them. There’s much more under the surface of brain injury that complicates the issue on an entirely different level.

The Mayo Clinic states that CTE is “is the term used to describe brain degeneration likely caused by repeated head traumas.” CTE is only able to be diagnosed officially after a full posthumous autopsy even though psychological and mental symptoms can be identified.

Concussions and the NFL

CNN compiled a rough outline of the timeline of concussions and the NFL and reported that in 2002 Dr. Bennet Omalu first identified what he described as “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” in the brain of a former Pittsburgh Steelers football player who had committed suicide at 50 years old. Omalu said later that his brain was in a similar state to the brain of an 80-year-old.

Terry Long, Andre Waters, Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling, Junior Seau, Aaron Hernandez, and Fred McNeil are just some of the NFL names that CNN lists in its timeline. What makes these names important? They all were posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

Players and their families are now suing the NFL saying that the league knew about the long-term health risks the multiple head injuries have on players and kept this information from the players themselves. The argument that the players “knew the risk they were taking when playing the sport” is the very controversy of the story of sport and concussions.

The question all sports fans and non-fans alike need to ask now is this, what is there to be done about concussions in sport? Should sports change? Can different equipment do enough to protect players? And is it worth the risk?

Ultimately, the risk is up for the individual to decide now because the information is available to be known, but, based on this information, the risk was not always known.

Photo courtesy of CNN.