A recent study has highlighted the importance of managing student-athlete concussions after researchers found that high school and college football players have a yearly average of 2.8 deaths linked to traumatic brain injuries and spinal cord damage. Preventing and managing concussions in student-athletes is vital, with research released in 2016 suggesting that as little as one concussion can cause life-long problems for an athlete.
Student Deaths Linked to Football Activities
The most recent study analyzed data from 2005 to 2014 and found an annual average of 2.8 deaths of high school and college athletes linked to brain and spinal cord injuries from football activities. Data from the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research (NCCSIR) identified 28 deaths over an almost 10-year period: 24 high school players and four college players. All four of the college players died from brain injuries, while 22 of the high school players had deaths linked to brain injuries.
Of the high school players who died of a brain injury, four had sustained a concussion within four weeks of their death. Three out of four of those suffered from the second-impact syndrome, in which the patient suffers a second concussion before the first has fully healed. The second-impact syndrome can cause severe brain swelling and can be catastrophic for the patient. Unfortunately for patients, even a minor head blow can be enough to trigger the second-impact syndrome. According to one report, the second-impact syndrome has a 90 percent mortality rate, and when it comes to athletes, it is typically high school or college players who experience it.
Researchers noted that nationally, 30 percent of public high schools do not have an athletic trainer and 50 percent do not require athletic trainers to be present for practices. In one of the deaths included in the study, a football scrimmage occurred when there were no emergency medical services on-site and it took 15 minutes for emergency medical services to reach the site, valuable time when a traumatic brain injury has occurred.
“These findings support continued surveillance and safety efforts to ensure proper tackling techniques, emergency planning, and medical care, particularly during competition, and adherence to protocols for safe return-to-play after a concussion,” researchers noted. “These measures will also reduce the risk of concussion and improve treatment and management after a concussion is sustained.”
In November 2016, 15-year-old Aaron Singleton died after he sustained a head injury during a football game. After being hit during the game, Singleton walked off the field and spoke with his trainer. Shortly after, he experienced a seizure and was taken to the hospital. According to reports, Singleton developed a blood clot and swelling on his brain stem. He was taken off life support the next day. Singleton’s family donated his brain for scientific research into second impact syndrome.
CDC Offers Guidance on Managing Student-Athlete Concussions
Given the catastrophic effects that a concussion can have on a developing brain, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a website dedicated to preventing and managing student-athlete concussions. The HEADS UP to Youth Sports site offers a free concussion training course and resources for coaches, parents, sports officials, and young athletes.
Warning signs of a concussion include the inability to recall events just before or after a fall, appearing dazed or stunned, confusion, vomiting, sensitivity to light or noise, moving clumsily, answering questions slowly, or showing signs of mood or personality changes. Not all signs and symptoms of a concussion will show up immediately. Some take hours or even days to arise.
Former College Athletes File Concussion Lawsuit
A group of former college football players has filed a lawsuit against the NCAA, alleging the organization failed in preventing and managing concussions in student-athletes.
Included in the lawsuits are allegations that the NCAA encouraged student-athletes to continue to play even after they suffered from a concussion and had not properly healed.
“No matter the popularity and profitability of any college sport, player safety must come first,” the lawsuit states. “This is especially true of ‘amateur’ college football, which has over the past few decades rivaled the NFL and other professional sports in popularity, and profitability. Yet Defendants sacrificed player safety—including the Plaintiffs’ and the Class’s long-term health and well-being—in favor of profits and self-promotion.”
The plaintiffs go on to allege that because collegiate players are typically between the ages of 18-23, concussions can have debilitating consequences, including preventing them from finishing their education or obtaining employment, developing depression, and suffering early-onset dementia.
Furthermore, the players argue, because the effects of a concussion may prevent an athlete from recognizing he has suffered a brain injury, student-athletes are at an increased risk of further hurting themselves by returning to a game with the belief that they are fine. Long-term consequences of concussion can include chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), mood disorders, memory loss, and dementia.
In addition to the NCAA, the NFL recently settled its concussion lawsuit and the NHL is still facing lawsuits alleging they did not do enough to protect their players from concussions or warn them about the risks of repeated brain injuries.