Have your parents ever discouraged you from playing football? Or lacrosse? Or any other sport that can give you a concussion or otherwise seriously endanger your health? For most student athletes, the answer is no.
I’m all for sports; I watch them every day. This includes football, I’m a 49ers fan and I have spent countless hours watching players pound each other and themselves, causing extreme pain and probable future health problems.
I’m not against the existence of these sports in high school, or even before. However, I believe that many people choose to ignore the dangers that sports present, due in large part to the parents, coaches, and communities that encourage playing them, and in some cases, playing through injuries.
Players experience tremendous pressure to perform consistently through a season. In some cases, a star player will get injured, seriously threatening the team’s chances to keep winning or make the playoffs.
Senior basketball player Brian Henson played through the season with a torn MCL and PCL, injuries sustained from football, because of his competitive nature and his role on the team. “As the starting point guard and as a senior, I knew that the team would struggle without my presence,” said Henson. “I love the competition in sports and I knew how much it would suck to watch from the bench.”
Henson felt pride from playing through his injury, although he regrets it now. “It makes you feel strong and unstoppable if you can play through the pain and discomfort. But it eventually got to the point where I had to stop and I realized I was making things worse for myself.”
Athletes also feel pressure because if they don’t consistently play through a season, college scouts are much less likely to recruit them. For some players this could mean going to a Division II or Division III school instead of the Division I school they always dreamed of playing for. What student athletes need to realize is that they might be doing damage to something more important than their reputation or their team’s end of the year statistics: their body and brain.
I would be lying if I said that most athletes are ignorant to the dangers of concussions. Sports Medicine and trainers make a solid effort to keep people educated, and concussions are usually treated as a very serious matter – when they happen. It’s the aftermath that causes the serious problems.
Since a concussion is primarily a mental condition, the best indication of progress towards health is the athlete’s honest description of what they are feeling. With all the pressure to get back on the field, athletes will often downplay their symptoms when talking to their doctor or trainer. They get the clearance form, show it to the coach, and they are back on the field with no further inquiries.
Too much questioning would threaten the success of the team, so why complicate things? A doctor, after all, made the diagnosis so they must be right. The problem is that the diagnosis is often more based on the judgments of the student than that of the doctor.
Henson never lied to doctors about his injuries, but he was able to avoid following direct orders from them. “The doctors told me that after a certain timetable I could do basic exercises like jogging and lateral cuts,” said Henson. “However, after the time was up I immediately went back to practice and acted like that’s what they told me to do.”
While concussions are the most obvious danger to the health of players involved in contact sports, even consistently playing one’s position without specific injuries can cause a serious threat. In football, multiple players on each side of the ball make high speed or high force contact on every single play. Much like each punch gradually hurts a boxer’s body, each hit on each play adds up to serious damage to one’s health.
Running backs take the worst of these hits. While there are many wide receivers on most football teams, there are usually only two or three running backs, who grab the ball knowing they will get tackled with few exceptions. The hazards for backs are even greater, considering that most high school football offenses choose run plays over 50% of the time.
The most exaggerated, yet telling statistics on the dangers of contact sports come from the NFL, a league full of physical behemoths who are looked up to by kids around the country.
It is estimated that each year in the NFL takes two to three years off of a player’s life. Linemen, who are now almost unanimously over 300 pounds in the league, have a shockingly low life expectancy of about 52 years. As you can see, the dangers don’t just come from hits and concussions, but also from the bodies that athletes build for their position.
While the primary problem is pressure, this pressure comes from pride. Parents are proud of their son’s or daughter’s physical and mental abilities and this pride pushes them to pressure the athlete to “get better.” They might not explicitly say to play through a concussion or strained ligament, but their expectations cause the student to bend the truth and return to the field.
An anonymous swimmer described to me the pressure he received from his father after breaking a bone. “My dad would tell me to get into the pool, pretending the injury wasn’t there,” said the athlete. “It almost felt like he didn’t even care if it got better.”
It’s hard to stop this problem because sports are such a huge part of American culture and parents rarely seem to be doing anything wrong; they are simply supporting their child. However, they need to become less ignorant to the problems these sports can create, and it all starts with releasing the pressure. Let your child push themselves to play if they really want to, and make an effort to inform them of the risks they take by playing a rough sport.
The Editorial Board voted 13-1 in favor