Alger: Clear thinking on concussions

WE’VE SEEN THIS  a million times before. A football player takes the ball, cuts up the field with a burst of speed and lowers his head as he tries to plow through an on-coming linebacker. The two players’ helmets crash together and both are left feeling dizzy and stunned. Both players stay in the game, because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. They’re taught to fight through injury and pain. If they want to remain a part of the team they’re on, they better not be coming out of the game for a silly little headache.

But times are changing, and it’s for the better.

Across the country people seem to finally catching on to the seriousness of head injuries in sports. Concussions are not a simple matter of getting your bell rung, they are a serious injury that can have long-lasting effects.

In the past, there used to be a rush to get athletes back on the field after injury. This has caused the end of several notable careers. Former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman attributed his retirement to the 10 — reported — concussions he suffered throughout his hall-of-fame career. Former Philadelphia Flyers hockey player Eric Lindross was supposed to be the heir apparent to Wayne Gretzky in the NHL, but his career was derailed by multiple concussions.

The good news is that teams around the country, in various leagues, are no longer rushing players back in the game. A good example of this is Sidney Crosby.

Similar to Lindross’ situation, Crosby was at the top of the hockey world last January. He’s young, talented and seems to possess all of the skills to become one of the all-time greats. The former NHL Most Valuable Player was in the midst of a stellar season, amassing 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in 41 games before he sustained hits in consecutive games in early January.

Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion and eight months later, the Penguins still haven’t cleared him to return to contact practice.

There’s been griping that Crosby should’ve come back already, but the Penguins are making a smart choice by not letting Crosby — who still experiences dizzy spells — come back too early. Messing around with head injuries can not only end a career, it can severely impact somebody for the rest of their life.

Education about concussions needs to start early.

According to a study conducted in 2009 by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, at least four of every 10 high school athletes who have concussions return to action too early.

Returning to play before giving the brain enough time to heal can leave athletes susceptible to second-impact syndrome, resulting in severe brain swelling and damage.

Luckily for those on Kaua‘i, this a is a matter the KIF takes seriously.

For the past several weeks, high school athletes have been taking pre-season concussion tests. The athletes do several different cognitive and physical tests to set a baseline. If that player suffers a head injury during the season, that player cannot come back onto the field until they are able to repeat or come close to the baseline that they set in their original test.

And these tests are not just limited to football. Every athlete who wants to compete in a high school sport on Kaua‘i takes this test.

Why you may ask?

Concussions come up in the most surprising situations. For Kaua‘i High School the sport that had the most concussions last year wasn’t football. It was volleyball, according to Kaua‘i athletic director Ross Shimabukuro.

Head injuries can come up in random situations, and while it may be impossible to completely prevent the injury, it seems like everyone — including the KIF — is coming up to speed on how to treat them. And that’s clear thinking.

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