New concussion regulations impact athletes

Cam Winston went in for tackle against Fowlerville on Aug. 29.  After the play, a Fowlerville player hit Winston in the head, and Winston fell to the ground.  He laid there unconscious and knocked out for several minutes with a concussion.

“I felt confused and dizzy and had to remember what happened,” Winston said.

Concussions like the one Winston received can result in severe long term effects on a teen’s brain and affect their everyday life.

The Michigan Sports Concussion law enacted on June 30 requires all high school personnel involved in youth activity to take and complete an online concussion training program. The law also makes all athletes and their parents sign a waiver that lists all the symptoms and signs of concussions and requires all coaches to take an athlete out of physical activity if the athlete has a concussion or concussion-like symptoms.

By law, an athlete removed from physical activity must then must get a written statement from a doctor to be cleared to return to physical activity.

In addition, all Dexter athletes have to take a Sport Concussion Assessment before each season to see if they have a concussion.which allows head athletic trainer Leah Gagnon and the rest of the athletic department to evaluate a player’s status and symptoms.

“This allows us evaluate the player’s status,” Gagnon said.  “They have to answer a series a questions about their symptoms, and if they still experience symptoms of a concussion, they have to be monitored and evaluated by a doctor until cleared.”

Varsity football coach Ken Koenig said he puts a high priority on athlete safety but doesn’t think the law will necessarily help prevent concussions.

“You can’t legislate safety,” Koenig said. “It’s like wearing a seatbelt. The law requires you wear a seatbelt, but people are still not going to wear a seatbelt.”

But Gagnon said the the new law is a step in the right direction.

“I definitely thinks it’s important,” Gagnon said.  “For the last five years at least, I’ve required them to get a doctor’s notice anyways. It didn’t really change much of how we were managing it here, because we were already doing that. What it does help, is that it now gives me something where I can say, look it’s a (Michigan High School Athletic Association) regulation. It’s no longer me just making that decision.”

For Koenig, one of the most positive things the law does is raise student-athlete awareness of the symptoms and effects of concussions.

“Our kids are very aware about the symptoms of concussions,” Koenig said.  “They’re aware of it so much that they know what to look for and they know what to hide.”

This is something Gagnon notices to. While she said it’s good young athletes are more aware of concussion symptoms, this also means they are better at knowing how to cover up the symptoms too.

“More athletes are starting to know about concussions and the severity of it,” Gagnon said.  “It’s kind of a double-edge sword though. More kids are becoming educated on the severity of concussions,  but at the same time, for the kids that all they want to do is play, they are now better educated on what to hide.”

Despite the law and potential long-term physical effects, not all athletes are concerned about getting concussions.  Senior Freddy Burke has had 11 concussions and could be ruled out for the upcoming hockey season because of this.

But Burke still wants to play, even though he knows the potential for long-term damage.

“I really wanna play, but you gotta go out there and play,” Burke said.  “You can’t change your style of play because you’re afraid.”

Junior Michigan State wide receiver Keith Mumphery has the same sort of mindset. Despite receiving two concussions, he said he’s not going to change his style of play.

“You can’t go play this game (football) being worried of getting hit,” Mumphery said.  “You can’t go into the game with that kind of mindset.”

But Gagnon said these athletes really need to think about the long-term damage they could be doing to themselves including developing Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

CTE is a progressive degenerative disease that is an inflammation in the brain that can cause loss of train of thought, brain trauma, extreme anger and death.

And it’s the second hit an athlete takes after an initial concussion that can be the most dangerous and result in the most severe long-term effects.

“That first hit that he takes is when he is concussed, that’s when the brain is damaged,” Gagnon said.  “There’s more and more things showing that its really that second hit that can seriously alter a kids life from that point forward.”

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