Sports and concussions, is it worth the risk?

Kelly Schueler, Eastview High School Class of 2011
Kelly Schueler, Eastview High School Class of 2011
Photo By: Dymanh Chhoun
Josh Luger, 17, gets ready to snap the ball to Breck School’s quarterback.
Josh Luger, 17, gets ready to snap the ball to the Breck School’s quarterback. He played center, but when he got his first concussion, he thought his helmet was a football and tried to score a touchdown, something a center wouldn’t usually do. Courtesy of Josh Luger
Josh Luger acts in “Story Theatre,” a play of adapted fairy tales. Quitting football was the hardest thing he’s had to do so far, but he has put all his energy into his other passion: theater. Courtesy of Josh Luger
Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has found brain degeneration from trauma can start months or even years after head impacts, according to its website, and can lead to memory loss, impulse control issues, depression and eventually dementia.

This story is a 2010-2011 MNA Better College Newspaper Contest winner!

First place in Sports Reporting

When Josh Luger, 17, of Minneapolis, snapped the ball back to the quarterback in an November 2009 varsity football game, the next few seconds changed his life.

Luger, an offensive center, had a broken snap on his chinstrap. A lineman hit Luger, and the helmet popped off his head.

“I was so unclear of what was going on I thought (the helmet) was the football,” Luger said.

The center tucked his helmet under his arm and took off toward the opposing team’s end zone, like he was trying to score a touchdown, something a center would typically never attempt.

Something wasn’t right. But Luger continued play, even though he didn’t really know what was going on.

Days later, Luger discovered while talking to the team trainer that he’d probably suffered a concussion during that play of the game.

Researchers are growing increasingly concerned about teen athletes like Luger, who could have more to worry about than just the temporary symptoms of concussions.
New research suggests that concussions can have a long-term impact on the brain.

This long-term effect is known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, and was previously found mostly in boxers and wrestlers. More recently it has been found in professional and college football players.

Concussions and other impact hits shake the brain like Jell-O. The fluids in your brain get moved to places that they shouldn’t be and bruising occurs. The most common symptom is headaches but blurred vision, ringing in the ears, trouble concentrating and feelings of nausea may also occur.

Dr. Jeffrey Louie, a local specialist in pediatric emergency medicine, said, “repeated concussions and (head) injuries can lead to CTE.”

Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has found brain degeneration from trauma can start months or even years after head impacts, according to its website, and can lead to memory loss, impulse control issues, depression and eventually dementia.

Louie, who works for Fairview Health Services, is currently researching how doctors treat concussions in youth, and if that should change.

“The biggest alarming finding would be that people are not (managing concussions) correctly,” Louie said.

Louie is concerned student athletes do not get proper evaluations and many are getting the OK to play too early.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy has done case studies on six athletes thus far. One case study was of a deceased 18-year-old high school football player’s brain. The center’s analysis revealed signs of CTE, the youngest case of ever recorded.

After Luger got home from his November 2009 game, he complained of being tired and having a bit of a headache, but this seemed normal for someone who just played a varsity football game.

He went straight to bed, unaware that sleeping is one of the worst things you can do after being hit in the head. It is possible to slip into unconsciousness, and in the most extreme situation, Luger could have ended up in a coma.

Once Luger understood he probably had sustained a concussion during the game, he confided in a teammate. “I was not going to tell the coaches because I did not want to let the team down,” Luger said.

Luger began playing tackle football in fourth grade but also had a passion for theater. He took his freshman year off football to participate in productions at his school, Breck School. Later, when he joined the team, he was given special permission to sometimes miss football practice so he could do theater. Lugar said he felt extra pressure to play hard for his team because of that special treatment.

Luger suffered two more concussions – one the following winter when he tried to jump in the open window of a friend’s car, headfirst. His third concussion happened during the following pre-season’s two-a-day football practice.

A week after his third concussion, Luger almost passed out while lifting weights. He was trying to “tough it out,” he said of his third concussion. Louie said one of the worst things you can do when having a concussion is hard workouts. Your brain needs to rest. Sometimes doctors will prohibit reading, Louie said.

Luger’s parents took him to see a neurologist who told him that had a stark choice: he could continue to play football, or he could have a brain.

He chose to save his brain. “Leaving the team was the hardest thing I have ever had to do,” Luger said.

Because of this CTE research, the NFL changed some rules last year. It now requires players to stay off the field until they are no longer experiencing concussion symptoms and have been given clearance by an independent neurologist, according to the league’s website.

Last spring, local teens and lawmakers helped get a state law passed that requires youth teams to do the same for teen athletes. To read more about that, click here.

Looking back, Luger said, “It scares me to know that I have had multiple concussions, and it is unclear what will happen to me.”

Luger still suffers from headaches and sensitivity to light. “It is OK to tell your coach you don’t feel well after being hit in the head,” Luger said.

Louie doesn’t think this research will put an end to the current way football is played.

“(It’s) like telling people not to smoke. People are going to take the risk,” Louie said. “If you have a chance to make the pros, fine, but other players? It’s not worth (your) brain.”
Share