What happens to a college athlete who sustains a head injury while playing for the school?With all of the recent publicity about concussions one might think these athletes would be protected and served the way most high school athletes are now mandated to be cared for by laws to that effect in almost every state in the Union. But no. The NCAA has long maintained that each school should develop its own policy rather than promulgate standard Association guidelines. As a result NCAA athletes can really be “on their own” to figure out how to get the best care following a head injury. And they may experience intense pressure from respected and beloved coaches to get back in the game much sooner than medical experts recommend.
In a remarkable short article on CBSSports.com, Mike Freeman reveals how resistant the NCAA has been to promulgating policy about head injury. He quotes from a recent survey of concussion management by the NCAA.
Most disturbing was that fewer than 50 percent of the NCAA schools, the NCAA’s own documents show, stated a physician was required to see an athlete post-concussion. Also, 39 percent of schools did not have an established return-to-play guideline.
Many NFL athletes are involved in a well publicized class action suit over their symptoms and dysfunction and since many of them probably concussed in high school and college before going Pro, Freeman contends that this might create the thorny situation in which “the NFL could possibly be in an awkward position of attacking its feeder system.” Will the NFL blame middle age dementia, depression and cognitive dysfunction on college concussions rather than assume responsibility for their own poor care? Will these two organizations duke it out or will they begin to recognize that they have both erred and begin to change their protocols, practices and patterns?
Until we have confidence that the NCAA is shouldering the responsibility for these young lives, every parent of an NCAA athlete needs to ask about concussion management in their child’s sport. Here are some questions to consider:
Is an athlete allowed to return to the game after a head injury?
What are the sideline diagnostic tools used?
Who makes the call about a head injury and who can over-ride that call?
How does the team determine when an athlete is clear to play again?
Who makes that determination?
What if recovery is prolonged?
How does the team coordinate with the academic community to help the athlete while his or her cognitive (thinking) skills clear up?
Sometimes those collegiate athletes who are on their own following injury need to have a helpful roadmap for recuperation. My book It’s All in Your Head: Everyone’s Guide to Managing Concussions has proven time and time again to be helpful for people in recovery. The anecdotes and stories ring true because they are. Each concussed person knows that only he or she perceives what doesn’t feel right. Although reading is never a recommended activity in the first few days, a caregiver can read the book aloud and learn at the same time what to expect in the days ahead.
Above all, loved ones need to advocate for the injured person. This “invisible injury” will soon enough be on the radar of the NCAA in a way the organization may not even be able to imagine. It’s a new ballgame and they better figure out the plays.