In light of the controversial NFL settlement with its 4,500 players, it is important for parents and young athletes to keep a perspective on the issues. We are lucky to live in a country where individuals and interest groups can effect change. Change is what will be required at all levels of contact sport and in the minds and practices of those who care for, coach, raise and nurture young athletes.
The NFL suit may be a good step and provide some much needed financial assistance for many of the suffering players and families, but it is just a small step in what needs to be a veritable cultural shift.
So, a few things to keep in mind:
- Exercise is good for kids (and adults). Obesity and its complications are far more common than concussions and also have life-altering side effects. We don’t want to prevent folks from being active
- Team sports are good for kids of all ages. Comeraderie, responsibilities, the ability to sacrifice (one’s time and effort, but not one’s mind or future) and the resulting fitness are all important aspects of the team experience.
- Concussions are not completely preventable (don’t be swayed by helmet makers; they don’t have the answer yet and probably won’t ever) but their frequency can be reduced and their severity diminished. How? By altering the way athletes play, for one.
- Will there be enough trickle-down effect from the NFL suit to make a difference in sports culture? Will colleges, schools, and rec leagues adopt new approaches?
- Can we continue to make the changes in how we respond to injuries so that we practice primary prevention (e.g.different rules of the game in various contact sports) as well as secondary prevention (preventing complications of head injury once they have happened)?
- The Four Rs: Recognize, Respond, Rest and Reassess are the cornerstones of managing concussions well and preventing future head injury. At this point in time we have no other tried and tested means of treatment. But one thing we know for sure: going back in the game, the physical as well as the mental game (school, work, college) prematurely is asking for trouble.