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Are Athletes Protected Enough?

Sports

What’s the downside to being an athlete? Should athletes be educated about the possible long term impact their sport could have on their body as well as quality of life down the road? And whose responsibility is it anyway?

The fact is that many athletes, regardless of the level they are playing at from pee wee to professional, suffer from injuries. The risk factor is real. For under age athletes, the responsibility lies with the coaches, trainers and parents. In a perfect world, the decision ought to be made based upon what is in the best interest of the athlete. Unfortunately, an athlete’s well being is not always the primary factor. Often it is a judgment call without all of the necessary information.

Athletes, however, are becoming more vocal about the realities of traumatic brain injury since they are the ones who have to live with the long term consequences. Is it really worth the price of fame, glory and money if you end up living with pain, sleep problems, memory loss and lowered quality of life because your body has been abused? Sports abuse is commonly practiced, but has rarely been named.

The problem is common among most big businesses. What is in the best interest of the athlete versus the business of sports? A fine line is walked between explicit guidelines and the implicit expectations teams have of their athletes. Money combined with the mindset to tough it out lead to decisions which speed up the timeline to return to play after an injury.

The NFL was named in a class action lawsuit by several former football players for commonly administering Toradol prior to games. The analgesic drug, similar but stronger in strength than Tylenol, masks pain. The players claim team doctors gave the drug en masse as players lined up for their injections. Concussions became more difficult to detect since the medication masked pain. Is a doctor’s medical judgment influenced when employed by the team instead of the league?

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Heading of the ball by soccer players is another concern. Since the brain has a similar consistency to jello, it does not take much to jar it. The long term effects build when athletes continually hit the ball with their heads. Soccer players under 10y/o are discouraged against head butt balls simply because they don’t possess the proper skill set yet. When athletes continuously use their heads, the risk of long term effects increases.

The NHL also grapples with this issue. High speed, full body contact and an unyielding surface of ice is unforgiving. Hockey’s player safety committee continues grappling with the concussion issue. The design of the hard shoulder and elbow pads contribute to head injuries. In the whole scheme of things which body parts receive priority? Head, shoulders or elbows?

These are adult players. The fact that 300,00 junior athletes suffer from sports related concussions annually is a staggering number. The National College Athletic Association along with the Center for Disease Control recognizes the problem. They have joined forces to develop extensive educational materials and guidelines concerning concussions.

A grass roots movement needs to begin with a call to action coming from athletes, coaches, trainers and parents that the current risk is not acceptable. History shows this is the most effective course for change to occur.

Athletes expect their helmets will protect them against concussions. Simply stated, it’s untrue. The helmets prevent skull fractures but there is no safeguard against their brains being jostled around.

Numerous accounts exist where an athlete experienced a concussion but it wasn’t detected immediately so they were put back into the game. The stats only show the number of reported concussions. Given the fact that many concussions go unreported, or undetected, the true numbers remain a mystery.

Seeing Mohammed Ali in his later years, hearing of Derek Boogard from the NHL and his decline leading to addiction and suicide while recovering from one of multiple concussions at 28y/o along with a growing list of athletes whose lives have been altered due to Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is reaching epidemic proportions. Athletes, particularly those who play in rougher contact sports, are most prone. These men thought they were immune to the long term effects of these injuries. Now is the time to take a stand that this is too high a price to pay for playing sports.

When athletes continue to play once they’ve received an injury to the head, they are putting themselves at greater risk if a second head injury occurs during the game even if the second hit is not as severe.

Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one else is looking.

Mental toughness is designed for high performance. Under no circumstances should a player continue to tough it out when they’ve experienced a head injury. The science of traumatic brain injuries is beginning to catch up to the reality athlete’s experience. It is time to turn things around and let athletes, coaches and team owners know that continuing to play when suffering from a concussion is not acceptable. The long term consequences override the short term benefits. There is nothing heroic about quality of life suffering down the road because an athlete didn’t want to let the team down or be judged poorly.

Challenge: Being benched is difficult. No one likes sitting on the sidelines to heal during the season. Have you been injured? What was your experience like? Instead of only seeing the negative, find what you learned from that experience. Explore whether there were pressures you placed on yourself as well as pressures you felt from your team. Concussions are a different injury from fractures, sprains and breaks. Check out the information freely available to become educated at http://www.cdc.gov/concussion/sports/index.html?source=govdelivery Yes injuries do happen, but take personal responsibility to educate yourself to optimize recovery. As a player take a stand for yourself, take yourself out of the game until you have been cleared by a physician. If you’re a coach have the best interests of the athlete in mind, having your player sit out until there is medical clearance.

Loren Fogelman, author of The Winning Point and founder of Expert Sports Performance.com , a company devoted to teaching elite athletes how to consistently achieve high performance, maintain focus during competitions and create the confidence to reach their BIG goals.
Now you are invited to claim your FREE Start-up Kit “”Top 7 Mistakes Even the Best Athletes Make” available at: => http://expertsportsperformance.com

Comments on this Article: 1

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  1. Hi Loren – I enjoyed this article. I think that, perhaps even more than a grassroots campaign, this issue needs to be solved starting at the top level of sports. Professional athletes who risk their health in the pursuit of athletic glory set a bad example for youth athletes. If they were to see a Tom Brady or Ray Lewis sit with a concussion, their own opinions might change. We’ve seen a little bit of this lately with Sidney Crosby. This might have to start with policies. Just today, a story came out about Kris Dielman from the SD Chargers, who said he would risk his health for a Super Bowl trophy. Leagues need to continue to take away an athlete’s choice of whether or not to play. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is a good example of this. He announced today that he will not be allowing leading tackler Ryan Clark to play in their upcoming playoff game in Denver because of a health condition that worsens in thin air. Athletes need to remember that they are role models, whether they want to be or not.

    Thanks for the great content.

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