It's easy to overlook that college athletes who sustain concussions are often kept out of the classroom as well as off the field. Ignoring the jests about just how "student" some student-athletes are, it's important to remember that they all still have to take classes and most of them know that their long-term futures will depend on their college degrees.
Tanya Sichynski, writing for the University of Georgia's Red & Black newspaper, recently reported on concussed members of the school's D-1 football team and their progress on the road to recovery. She notes that many people who have heard the word "concussion" don't necessarily realize how severe an injury it is:
"When the head is hit so hard the brain bounces and hits the walls of the skull, the axons in the area of impact cannot efficiently transmit information from one part of the brain to another. The damage to those nerve cells appears in the form of a plethora of cognitive impairments, such as problems with reaction time, memory, prioritizing and executive brain functions such as decision making."
A major focus of the article is the case of punter Collin Barber, who was concussed last month in a game against the University of Tennessee. A few days after the injury, Barber was unable to complete a geography exam. His headaches persisted for two weeks and he found it difficult to focus in class and on work. Sichynski notes that Barber's symptoms, when compared to others, were mild enough so that he could at least attend classes:
"That’s not always the case. If the headaches, dizziness, nausea and memory loss persist, an athlete’s academic performance could suffer tremendously."
Another Georgia player, Merritt Hall, was recently forced to end his career due to what was likely his fifth concussion. Shutting him down is described as a preventative measure, as there's only so many shots to the head one person can take.
While the sport's level of awareness has improved in recent years, Sichynski describes the trouble associated with "tough guy" football culture and how it perpetuates a dangerous precedent for hiding traumatic brain injuries:
"Phrases like “getting your bell rung” are thrown around in lieu of calling a concussion what it is — a brain injury, allowing players to characterize it as something far less serious, as a ding in the door. When diagnosing concussions relies greatly on a player’s responsibility to self-report, downplaying the symptoms to get back on the field is almost expected."
Keep reading at The Red & Black. It's well worth a read.
Photo credit: Aspen Photo / Shutterstock