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Six Years After: Concussion Risk Management Still A Work In Progress

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Progress in overcoming what a 2014 report by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council termed the "culture of resistance" has been, unfortunately, painfully slow.  A number of studies have shown that, despite increased awareness on the part of athletes, chronic under-reporting of concussion symptoms continues to plague sports, at every level, from Pee Wee to the pros.

Just as in 2008, there are still far too many coaches in this country, of youth gymnastics, football, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, skiing, who berate and ostracize players complaining of concussion symptoms, who call them "wimps," who yell at doctors, and athletic trainers for refusing to let a player with concussion symptoms go back into the game, and have kicked kids off of the team for refusing to play for two weeks because of a concussion. Again, "Friday Night Tykes" and a recent incident during a high school football game in Oklahoma - caught on videtape - in which a player who was so disoriented after a blow to the head that he didn't know where he was or the score - was literally shamed back into the game when an assistant coach asked him rhetorically, "Are you still gay?"

Parents have a right to expect that, when they entrust their children to a sports program that it will take reasonable precautions to protect them against harm. In other words, parents have a right to expect that the entire team to whom they entrust their children's safety — including the national governing body for the child's sport, the state association, the athletic or club director, the athletic trainer (if there is one), and especially the coaches - are part of the concussion solution, not part of the problem.

That they will witness their child suffering a serious injury playing sports is one of a parent's worst nightmares. The possibility of injury was often in the back of my mind when I watched my children play sports. Two of my sons have received a total of seven concussions. Thank you Hunter--he is my golfer.

But because the signs and symptoms of concussions are not as obvious as a broken leg or a sprained ankle and are often very subtle, because most don't involve a loss of consciousness, and because self-reporting by athletes is critical to the detection and treatment of concussions, the only way parents can sit in the stands without worrying sick about what might happen if their son or daughter suffers a concussion is if they know the program, and especially the coach, takes concussions very seriously and that every member of the team is using the same playbook.