A new poll by ESPN: The Magazine contains some good news and bad news about sports concussions. A confidential survey of 300 high school football players, 100 coaches, 100 parents, and 100 athletic trainers in 23 states reported that concussion awareness is at an all-time high but that players, and to a lesser extent their parents, continue to downplay the risks:
- Asked to rank where their group fell among all four groups on its level of concern about concussions, there was a concensus that athletic trainers worried the most (1.6 on a 4-point scale with 1=most concerned and 4=least), and players the least (3.5). A troubling sign: athletic trainers appear to still be under pressure from players and parents to rush their return to play. Said one Ohio ATC, "I find myself buckling to that pressure more than I'd ever imagine." I am disappointed to hear that there are still parents out there who appear willing to put their kids' health at risk for athletic glory.
- Very few coaches said they were willing to risk a star player's health by keeping him in the game with a concussion in order to win the state title game, with parents and ATs in agreement, although whether coaches walk the walk when it comes down to crunch time is highly debatable. Players, however, continue to exhibit a winning-at-all-costs attitude, with a majority (54.1%) saying that they would rather win the game with the star playing despite a concussion than lose the game because he was benched. No wonder that study after study finds under-reporting of concussion symptoms by high school athletes.
- Even though headache is, far and away, the number one reported symptom of concussion, a majority of players (55.4%) felt it didn't warrant a benching until a clear diagnosis was made, putting them at odds, once again, with coaches (33.7%), ATs (29.7%) and parents (24.2%). Nice to see only one in four parents thinking that it was okay to return.
- Asked whether running a decent chance of permanent brain damage was worth it if a player had a good chance of playing in the NFL, a majority of coaches, parents, players and ATs said it wasn't. More than a third (134 out of 300) players, however, said the risk was worth the reward, just further evidence that we need to do a better job of getting through to the kids on the long-term risk of brain damage from playing professional football. Nearly one in five coaches chose "wealth over health" as well.
- Although nearly three out of four responded either "no chance" or "doubtful" to a player's chances of playing the weekend after suffering a concussion, players are still resistant, with one Georgia player telling ESPN, "My coaches sort of say, 'You're not playing' and it take a lot to convince them to change their minds."
- Helmet safety appears to be a growing concern. While all four groups gave passing grades to the condition of their football helmets, they all were concerned about where the funds were going to come from to replace worn-out helmets or send them out for reconditioning. "My school says we don't have money for new helmets or for fixing up old ones," one Michigan linebacker told ESPN. "I have the same beat-up helmet I had last year." Alarmingly, twelve players gave their helmets a failing grade, more than the other three groups combined (four). The message to parents: check your child's helmet for a NOCSAE certification sticker, and demand that the program follow the manufacturer's recommendations on annual or bi-annual reconditioning.