Are Schools Doing Enough to Prevent Concussions?

As practice time approaches, are student athletes safe?

It’s almost mouthpiece time.

This past Saturday, El Hombre went to his local sporting goods store to pick up some golf balls to deposit in the trees, sand and water around the Delaware Valley. When he asked the young man behind the counter how things were going, the response was laced with sarcasm. “I’m putting price tags on 100 mouthpieces, so I’m just living the dream,” he said.

As thunderheads massed above and the heat index hovered in the range of Dante’s third ring of hell, it was easy to forget that, in just two short weeks, fall-sports preparation will be cranking up—and all of those tooth protectors the disgruntled employee was tagging will be put to good use at practices everywhere.

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It’s interesting that a concept so simple can be so effective. Athletes’ teeth are spared chipping, breaking and shattering by the small piece of equipment, and more and more people are choosing to use them in sports other than football. If only it were so easy and inexpensive to protect against concussions in sports. It isn’t—even though the awareness about the dangers is higher than ever.

In the past, there was pushback by some professional and collegiate representatives, who insisted that conditions like CTE and early-onset dementia weren’t directly related to blows to the head. Today, the census grows about how it imperative it is to protect players, young and old, from concussions.

But there’s still work to be done, as some aren’t yet ready to make the concessions necessary to ensure that all participants—especially younger athletes—are as safe as possible. They refuse to limit contact during football practices. They won’t hold off on allowing soccer players to head the ball, as Shipley School did a couple years back with its middle-schoolers.

Obviously, it’s impractical to put kids in bubbles, no matter how much some parents might want to do it. After all, it’s possible to get a concussion by absorbing a stray elbow on the basketball court or even while playing baseball. But it’s important that those charged with administering and coaching youth sports understand that continued attention to the dangers of concussions is an obligation to be approached with great seriousness.

Left alone, kids of all ages will do anything to stay on the field. El Nino actually did this while at a lacrosse camp one summer in high school. After absorbing a hit that concussed him, he lied to the trainer about his condition and was allowed to play in the next game. When a teammate congratulated him later for scoring the winning goal, El Nino couldn’t remember doing it.

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That was seven years ago, so it’s hard to fault the trainer. Today, however, we absolutely know better. Even if it means a player has to miss a couple games (or more) due to concussion, there’s no reason to place winning over the long-term welfare of our youth.

Most might think this admonition is old and quite obvious. That’s a good thing, since it means the message has reached a wider audience. Others need to be reminded that the overall goal is a healthy experience—not winning the league title in a 10-and-under football league.

Those mouthpieces will be put to work pretty soon, protecting teeth. Let’s hope adults are on the job, too, protecting brains. And futures.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: By this time next week, Eagles training camp will be in session, and football fans will be able to see the start of the 2016 season on the horizon. The summer is a time for hope—unless you’re a Browns fan. But there had better be a little reality mixed in. If the Birds go 9-7, it should be considered a big year, since the team lacks big-time playmakers on offense and is not nearly ferocious enough on D. 

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