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how much do we really know about head injuries to football players

  The young man from Parkland who died from suicide related to an undiagnosed condition called traumatic encephalopathy shocked all of us local football fans and parents. The truth is that it should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched this game played with the intensity that good athletes bring to the field. The line from the Jack Nicholson movie comes to mind about not wanting to hear the truth, because maybe we can't handle it. Football-related injuries have been a concern since President Theodore Roosevelt convened representatives from academic institutions to reform the rules of football. The more research I did the more I realized that contact sports like football place our kids at risks well beyond the obvious. As a lawyer who has represented way too many clients with brain injuries, I know how these injuries can change the lives of the injured and their families. Over one-and-a-half-million high school and college boys play football each year. A football-related fatality has occurred every year from 1945 to the year 2000 except for one year. According the U.S. Product Safety Commission there were over 36,000 football-related head injuries in 2007. Cycling is the only other activity that has a higher incidence rating. Concussions, like the one suffered by Kevin Kolb of the Eagles two weeks ago, are the most common type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) sustained by football players. According to the journal of Athletic Training there are over 250,000 diagnosed cases of concussion a year. This injury had been labeled the silent epidemic because it receives very little attention. Troy Aikman has admitted to at least eight of them during his career. What are the signs of post concussive syndrome? According to a study conducted by the American Neuropsychiatric Association they "may include persistent headache, irritability, inability to concentrate, memory impairment, general fatigue, dizziness, or a generalized loss of well-being" In most cases the condition usually resolves in six to eight weeks from the onset. My first concussion occurred as a senior while making a shoe-string tackle late in the fourth quarter of a close game. I remember the excruciating headaches that occurred during practice the following week as we did drills on the hitting machine. My coaches were smart enough to send me to the doctor who diagnosed the condition that resulted in me having to sit out the biggest game of the year against Liberty High. However, I lived to play another day.  Now - here's the really scary part about concussion injury. It's called second impact syndrome. If a concussion is left untreated or undiagnosed and the player continues to play, he is left at risk for a much more serious and life threatening consequence. The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine says that patients suffering from head injury are "extremely vulnerable to the consequences of even minor changes ..." to the brain chemistry. Repeated mild brain injuries can be "catastrophic or fatal." Football players who sustained one concussion in a season are three times more likely to sustain a second concussion in the same season when compared with uninjured players as cited by Journal of Athletic Training. The good news is that in the last decade the numbers have gone down because new rules prevent tactics like spearing, butt blocking, and face to the numbers. Interestingly, the statistics actually jumped in the 60s and 70s as coaches encouraged players to use these methods. Huh? No one has to be trained in physical anatomy to know that hitting with your head is going to be dangerous Ok. What can we do to prevent these injuries and catch them when they happen? *   As parents, and coaches, look for the obvious symptoms and those cited above. Not every concussion causing impact is obvious. Most high school players are still learning and make mistakes like missing blocks and tackles and end up -- well -- hitting the ground instead. When your son comes home from a game pay attention and ask. * Make sure he sees a doctor before the season and has a routine exam. Maybe such an exam could have prevented what happened to the youngster from Parkland. * Talk to the trainer and coach if you have any concerns at all, but don't always rely on them because as a parent you have instincts they don't. The sport of football has become tougher, kids train harder and hit harder than when I played. All good reasons to be more careful now than ever. Dennis F Feeley

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