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Destler Dodge

The lack of concussion awareness in the sports world is absolutely appalling. Take the passing of NFL great and Hall of Famer Junior Seau; in May of 2012, Seau was found in his home dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. After his death, there was widespread speculation that his death was related to the concussions he sustained in his football days. This is the kind of story that the NFL, NHL and other sports organizations do not like to see.

Seau’s brain tissue was donated to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, where it would be researched for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy — or CTE — a degenerative disease mostly found in people who suffer multiple concussions, causing depression, dementia and memory loss. A year later, the results of the study were released and it was concluded that Seau’s death was a result of CTE and the multiple concussions he received during his career.

His death is similar to that of fellow NFL player Dave Duerson, who also committed suicide and texted his family beforehand to donate his brain for CTE. A few months later neurologists also confirmed that his death was a result of CTE and the concussions he suffered during his career. A concussion, according to BrainLine, is “a mild traumatic brain injury that is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to either the head or the body that causes the brain to move rapidly inside the skull. A concussion changes how the brain normally functions.”

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur nationwide every year. According to a study conducted by the NCAA, college athletes have suffered an average of 10,500 concussions every year for the last five years, with 3,400 of those occurring in solely football alone. The aim of this study is to go in depth into what concussions truly are and their long term effects, because it is still unclear as to what they can do to harm someone later in life.

“I think the public is making pretty broad decisions based on the story, and I think there’s a call here to deliver the science that is then the basis for the story instead of the other way around,” said Michael McCrea, a neuropsychologist at the Medical College of Wisconsin who is partaking in leading the research for this study.

University of Rochester is one of the schools participating in the study, by conducting testing on their student athletes. A majority of those 10,500 student-athletes probably got back up after they were hit, and continued playing the game they love.

Well, at least that’s what I did. In the fall of 2016, I was on the field playing for RIT Rugby against SUNY Fredonia, on Fredonia’s home field. I was tackled down to the ground and a ruck ensued afterwards. An opposing player stepped directly on the right side of my head with his cleats, and the pain instantly followed as I laid on the ground as the ruck was ongoing. As the game continued, I stood up and continued to play, feeling lightheaded. Luckily, the game ended shortly a few minutes right after, so I was prevented from putting myself further at risk.

After being dropped off at school afterwards, I walked back to my dorm with a strong headache and having problems walking in a straight line. I immediately showered, took Ibuprofen and laid in bed for a few hours writhing in pain, unbeknownst to what was going on in my head. I continued to feel nauseous with headaches coming and going for the next couple of days until I finally decided to check into RIT’s health center to see a doctor about what was going on.

The doctor asked me to walk in a straight line, asked me how many fingers she was holding and made me follow her little finger with my eye. Afterwards she told me I was concussed and needed to rest in bed for a few days.

I was shocked that there are limited resources and limited knowledge about concussions, even in a medical clinic such as RIT’s Student Health. I decided to take it upon myself to seek out a concussion specialist. Luckily, I was able to undergo a CT scan of my head at the Strong Memorial Hospital. After getting the results back, I was told that I was cleared to return to sports. I was told there was no evidence of any damage to my brain. Still, I felt as if there was something wrong with me.

“Concussion is a functional disturbance, not a structural one, which is why imaging of the head or brain is unlikely to reveal anything,” according to sports medicine physician Dr. Mandy Huggins, who specializes in the field of concussion study.

I decided to return to rugby. I continued to be involved in aggressive contact where my head was occasionally rattled. After every practice I asked myself if it was worth it. It was hard to understand what was happening in my head, because I was never educated on it in school or in the sports world. We were only told by our peers to rest if we had a concussion.

I was afraid to tell anyone, my coaches, my parents and my friends; I was afraid they would urge me to quit the sport I’ve been playing for years. I fell behind in school, had no will to go out with my friends and felt down in the dumps more than I had ever been in my life. I thought there was something truly wrong with my head.

The problem today with athletes in contact sports is that we are not as aware as we need to be about the dangers of concussions. Sometimes athletes continue to partake in their sport even before they have been have been cleared.

Consider Jorje Jimenez, a wrestler from Grand Streeet Campus High School in Brooklyn. His case was featured in the New York Daily News, as he ignored the warnings of his doctors not to wrestle after suffering his first concussion from a previous match.

“I know what I have to do and I know that sitting out isn’t the answer,” Jimenez explained. [Sitting out won’t] win the state title this year.” If he rested from wrestling to take time to heal, he would lose his chance of being recruited and receiving scholarship money for college since he was a favorite to win the city championships in NYC.

“I am a little nervous about my health,” Jimenez said. “I’ve dealt with concussions before. This one has been a lot worse than any of them. But I’ll deal with it.” Jiminez’s case reveals how athletes are pressured to succeed and pursue the sport they love; in many cases, they have no choice when the spotlight shines on them.

If I had put myself at higher risk and went back on the field without any rest, my situation would have turned out worse than it did. Luckily for me, I was able to get the rest in order to heal my head and return to play the sport I love. I still have a chip on my shoulder every time I go out on the field, scared for what’s going to happen next. While I’m glad I still have the capability to play rugby, it’s not the same for every other athlete out there. Lack of concussion awareness still exists in the sports world, and it is our job to educate our kids and future kids about the dangers of concussions, as well as to further encourage and fund more concussion research.