Area high school coaches concerned about the effects of new concussion report
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
by Matt Porter
In light of a report this week that suggests younger football players may suffer from a trauma-induced disease caused by head injuries, area high school coaches wondered about the effects the report will have on amateur football participation.
But the coaches also said that because of an increased awareness of head injuries - and a number of safety nets in place - they don't believe the sport will see an exodus of players.
The New York Times reported Tuesday that University of Pennsylvania lineman Owen Thomas, 21, who hanged himself in April, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease linked to depression and poor impulse control that has been found in more than 20 deceased NFL players. Head trauma is the only known cause.
On Sunday, The Palm Beach Post chronicled the life of Andre Waters, the former Pahokee High and Philadelphia Eagles player who committed suicide in 2006. Waters was found to have CTE.
The Post story detailed how new revelations about brain injuries were discovered only after doctors studied the brains of Waters and other NFL players who died young. The doctor who studied Waters believed there was a connection between his death and CTE.
The Times story on Thomas' death provides some evidence that younger players can have CTE.
Thomas hanged himself after what family and friends described as a sudden and stunning emotional collapse. Doctors cautioned that his suicide should not be attributed solely or even primarily to the damage in his brain, but they acknowledged that a 21-year-old developing the disease so early raised the possibility that it played a role in his death, the Times reported.
Prior to the Thomas case, the youngest player shown to have the disorder was Chris Henry, the 26-year-old former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who died in December after a domestic dispute.
Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson said it would be additionally painful if tragedy away from football was spurred by brain injuries suffered on the field.
"I've lost players to violence, but never from stuff on the field," said Thompson, who was coaching when Pahokee senior Norman 'Pooh' Griffith was shot and killed in 2008, "If I lost a kid knowing that what they did on the field had anything to do with it, it would be horrible."
Dr. James Moriarty, who oversees medical care of athletes at Notre Dame, told the Times if the disease could be traced to trauma, "it would kill the sport.
"As a parent, it's going to be hard to justify kids going out and doing that."
Because of new warnings concerning head injuries, Jupiter Christian coach Bill Powers said it's possible for the number of kids playing amateur football to dwindle.
"The sport is trying to do its best to stop [concussions]," he said. "The contact that younger kids do is minimal. But if there are more health risks, more people won't want their kids to play, it's that simple."
Thompson said: "I have a son of my own, and I hope that he plays football someday. But add this to the long list of things that parents have to worry about when their kids want to play sports."
Dwyer High coach Jack Daniels said a number of concussion-related deaths would hurt the sport, but not kill it. He said today's coaches are more aware than ever of concussion risks.
"When you watch closely as a coach, you're seeing everything. Last week, we had a kid doing a kickoff drill who got hit, and he immediately went to his knees. I could tell he didn't know where he was," Daniels said. "And he was immediately [taken out].
"There are injuries you [play] through, but you don't mess with head," Daniels said.
This year, the National Federation of High Schools tweaked its rules concerning concussions. Before this year, officials were directed to remove an athlete from play "if unconscious or apparently unconscious."
This year, the language prompts officials to remove an athlete from play if he or she shows signs of a concussion. In addition, the player must be cleared by an "authorized medical professional" before re-entering a game.