Concussion Concern Continuing Controversy

Dree Ivanoff, Staff Writer

Public concern over the long term effects of concussions on athletes’ brains has catalyzed change in “at risk” sports safety policies, but the future of these sports remains uncertain. The current “at-risk concussion sports” are baseball, softball, soccer, track, cheerleading, wrestling, basketball, and football.

Schools’ sports programs and directors will not jeopardize any students’ health, and would rather change the game than have the risk lie in a student’s future. 

“Students do not have the right to play sports, it is a privilege. And just as it is a privilege for students to compete, we as adults have to see that we have a great responsibility to provide a safe environment,” said Athletic Director and teacher Tom Renno.

“Everything in life is continually evolving, the game of baseball didn’t even exist 200 years ago and now is our national pastime. So, I think that we need to continue to evolve in a way where students are learning and growing through their participation in sports in a way that is also setting them up to be productive and healthy adults,” Rennon added.

The public’s desire for change started with the discovery of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disorder caused from repetitive brain trauma that builds up with each injury to the head. According to CBS News’ “60 Minutes Looks At Alarming New Research On The Long Term Affects Of Concussions And Head Trauma,” the impact of head trauma can be permanent and dramatic. It can affect any player, whether he or she is in high school, college, or the pros.

The New York Times’ articles “N.F.L. Shifts on Concussions, and Game May Never Be the Same” by Ken Belson and “The N.F.L.’S Tragic C.T.E Rollcall” lists the fallen heroes of football and the NFL’s confession that CTE and football concussions do have a correlation to one another.

Concussions are not limited to pro football however.

Sophomore Regina Kong, a synchronized swimmer, suffered a concussion when a teammate kicked her in the head. However, she initially wasn’t aware she had a concussion. “I had a concussion, but I didn’t think I had one so I went for a week. I did National team trials and then a few days after that I realized that my vision was getting really blurry and then that’s when I went to the doctor and they told me, ‘Oh, well, you’ve actually got a concussion the day when you were kicked.'”

Kong explained the difficulty in recognizing her injury: “There’s no real way to pinpoint when you have a concussion. A lot of the symptoms are dizziness, headaches, and just tiredness and drowsiness. They’re all things you can have without having a concussion.”

“I think coaches should be more aware and also the athletes more aware, cause when I got kicked my coach kept asking me, ‘Are you okay? Are you okay?’, and I just kept telling her ‘Yeah I’m fine. No problem.’ But I think people need to take it more seriously than they do because just cause you can’t see the symptoms on the outside, doesn’t mean that there’s nothing wrong inside,” said Kong.

Both the CIF and NCS, which are the governing bodies for high school sports in the area have placed greater emphasis on safety and education related to concussions. “I know that they have really strict rules when it comes to concussions and how long it takes to get back in,” said junior wrestler Avery Novick.

Fortunately, the recent push to educate coaches has started to make a difference for some athletes. “It’s unfortunate if you take one to the head, but all of the coaches are really good at noticing when you do get hit in the head, checking you out, and it’s a really small part of the game and not something that should happen to you over the total season. But if you do occasionally take one to the head they’ll generally know,” said senior soccer player Kyle O’ Connell.


The Cooley Bill, a California law intended to reduce concussions in young football players, was started last year.

Football coach Kevin Macy explained, “They wanted to limit the amount of time the players are allowed to do full contact drills during practice week to 90 minute sessions.”

Macy said the Cooley bill’s drill rules “hasn’t really had an effect on us because we don’t do that much live hitting during the week, the season.”

According to Macy, one of the biggest changes is the new restriction on summer training.  Practices with contact are extremely limited, and attendance of summer camps that allow contact is now prohibited by the CIF.  California schools can no longer participate in such camps.

“The reason we go to team camps, is their full contact camps; is that kids can practice amongst themselves especially when you think about lineman and linebackers,” said Macy.

While he understands the concussion issue, Macy is not satisfied with the types of camps that are still legal. “They still allow what they call no contact camps and we ended up going to one at UC Berkeley at Cal. Ee went to one, but we couldn’t do tackling, we couldn’t hit running backs, we couldn’t hit receivers. It was light duty but definitely not what we want and need, so that’s what we did last year.”

Coach Macy hinted at a bleak future for teams who can’t get enough practice time due to additional safety precautions being mandated: “On April 10 the North Coast Sections are going to have a vote and might go one step further and say that schools would like. not be allowed to use helmets or shoulder pads if they go to any type of camp during the summer, which would then eliminate what we did last year at the CAL camp. In other words it would eliminate nearly all the camps during the summer, at least for teams.”

In fact, the NCS has eliminated shoulder pads and helmets for team football camps over the summer.

Some players are not convinced all of the precautions are necessary. Senior football player Max Flower said, “I would say its just like a big scare. I know of 2 concussions in 4 years of Campo, so I mean it’s just a big scare. It’s been taken way too seriously in our community and it’s not actually a problem.”

In fact, many players don’t worry about concussions at all.

“…it’s definitely not something I’ve been worried about,” said O’Connell. “I think it’s most important to teach kids the right technique on how they go up to and how to head the ball correctly. Instead of getting hit in the head, make sure your not winging it.”

According to Flower, the concern over the dangers of concussions and the talk of drastically changing sports like football in order to mitigate such danger is ill advised. “I think that, that would be messed up and really unfortunate to a great game that brings so much revenue to the US and just people are being too cautious about it, and I think people are too conservative about it,” he said.

For the moment however, the tide seems to be shifting against contact sports as governing bodies continue to debate whether or not the rewards outweigh the risks.