November 15, 2019
The brain is the most important organ in the body. It produces and controls our memories, emotions, actions, and reactions. It enables us to think, to feel, and to understand. The brain is what makes us human. Each of us is equipped with our own, unique, individual brain that determines all the things we love. Some people love art, others love music. And, unfortunately for the brain, some people love football.
A recent study by the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study database determined that boys’ football is the sport with the highest concussion rate of approximately 67,000 diagnosed concussions per year. And that number doesn’t include the concussions that go undiagnosed. According to a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, only 47.3% of high school varsity football players with head injuries said they reported their concussions. A Vox article presented data collected by researchers from Harvard University and Boston University which revealed that more than 80% of concussions suffered by college football players are unreported. These traumatic head injuries can lead to long-term health issues and permanent brain damage, particularly when—as is frequently the case—they aren’t diagnosed and treated.
There is a culture among high school football teams across the country that has resulted in thousands of undiagnosed, unreported, and untreated concussions. Some athletes are inclined to understate their injuries by “manning up” in the face of injury rather than seeking medical treatment. This culture resides in locker rooms, on the bench, and on football fields. Undoubtedly, this culture is prevalent in Scarsdale. A Scarsdale football player explained that a significant number of players on the football team suffer hits to the head without reporting them. A recently graduated Scarsdale varsity football player bears this out. “I think that the culture of football that I’ve observed during my time playing for Scarsdale causes athletes to typically be pressured to keep their concussions to themselves. Kids won’t always speak up because they don’t want to sit out, and they think their concussion will get better soon, or because the recovery steps take a while. Whenever I’ve been hurt, I’ve mostly kept it from the coaches,” said the athlete.
Scarsdale High School, like many other high schools, has taken steps and instituted a rigorous concussion management protocol, which includes training for coaches, education for students and parents, and a clear return to play progression. Despite the policies, a great number of these injuries are going unreported, in large part due to the unwillingness of student-athletes to take time off from school and miss important games. A less apparent issue, however, is the peer pressure from fellow teammates. “I’ve sometimes told teammates of my injuries, who have responded by saying “you’re fine,’ ‘play through it,’ ‘we all have concussions—it’s football,’ and ‘don’t be a p*ssy,’” explained the SHS alum.
The most significant consequences of overlooked head traumas are the resulting long-term health issues. Concussions can cause memory loss, behavioral changes, depression, and other emotional issues. In many cases, head trauma can increase the risk of other brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A study published by the Radiological Society of North America found that even a single concussion can cause lasting damage to the brain. When players don’t get prompt medical attention, these concussions can lead to more severe and lasting problems that even eventual treatment cannot resolve. As we develop a fuller understanding of the toxic culture of football, and as the awareness of untreated concussions grows, the future of high school football programs in Scarsdale and throughout the nation is precarious.