In the past, a "bell ringer" was thought of the same way as a cut or a sprained ankle, with no lasting side effects. Until a few years ago, the NFL's medical committee on concussions published studies that concluded players were not suffering long-term damage from head trauma incurred during athletic competition.

The lack of awareness carried over to the training rooms of every sport, and high-profile athletes such as boxer Muhammad Ali and All-Pro safety Dave Duerson were prematurely sent back into action. Years later, they essentially lost their minds. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur each year. Out of this figure, about 235,000 people are hospitalized and 50,000 die per annum, according to the CDC.)

"Ninety percent of concussions went undiagnosed," Chris Nowinski of the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute tells Village Voice Media. "In fact, today you can talk to an athlete and ask the amount of concussions they've had and give them the actual definition, and that number will increase."

Kayla Meyer of New Prague, Minnesota, has missed 75 school days because of concussions suffered while playing hockey. Her parents, who don't have health insurance, have been forced to sell their possessions to pay for Kayla's medical bills.
Chuck Kajer
Kayla Meyer of New Prague, Minnesota, has missed 75 school days because of concussions suffered while playing hockey. Her parents, who don't have health insurance, have been forced to sell their possessions to pay for Kayla's medical bills.
Justin Landers, head athletic trainer of Katy High School, thinks that the state's concussion law falls short, partially due to the win-hungry culture of Texas high school football.
Daniel Kramer
Justin Landers, head athletic trainer of Katy High School, thinks that the state's concussion law falls short, partially due to the win-hungry culture of Texas high school football.

Nowinski, a former World Wrestling Entertainment pro and author of Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, along with noted neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu, founded the Sports Legacy Institute. The foundation works with Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in performing post-death pathology on brains donated by former athletes.

One of the latest specimens examined was that of Duerson, a former NFL standout who, after years of dementia and depression, shot himself to death — in the chest so his brain would be preserved — on February 17. Neurologists later confirmed that Duerson, who had played for the Chicago Bears, New York Giants, and Phoenix Cardinals (now called the Arizona Cardinals), was afflicted with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease linked to the total amount of distress a brain receives during a lifetime. Because a concussed person may not always exhibit such classic symptoms as headaches and nausea, CTE is, in essence, an invisible killer that can cause the brain of a 35-year-old to resemble that of an 80-year-old.

These findings have helped turn the National Football League from concussion skeptics into an organization that is spreading the word that head trauma in sports can have deadly consequences. The campaign has even trickled down to the NFL-licensed Madden NFL video games, in which a concussed player in the yet-to-be-released Madden NFL 12 cannot return to play after suffering the injury. In February, the league urged all states to pass concussion legislation in youth athletics.

For the 75 former NFL pros who sued the league in July, alleging it concealed the dangers of the injuries for decades, it's too little, too late. Football retirees such as Mark Duper, Ottis Anderson, and Raymond Clayborn are claiming that the league was careless in its false assumptions. (As of press time, the NFL planned to contest the allegations.)

The proper treatment of concussions, especially in youth sports, is still a developing — and somewhat murky — science.

In 2004, Jake Snakenberg, a Denver-area high school freshman, knocked his head during a football game but assured his mother he felt ready to play again. A week later, the young fullback once again hit his head during a game.

The blow was unremarkable, but Snakenberg staggered to his feet and fell back down. He never got back up, and was declared dead the next day from second-impact syndrome, a swelling of the brain derived from a second concussion before the symptoms of the first have passed.

These types of injuries are exacerbated in youth athletes because the human brain doesn't metabolically or neurochemically mature until a person is in his or her early to mid-20s, according to David Hovda, professor and director of the University of California-Los Angeles' Brain Injury Research Center. This includes the young brain of Matt Blea, who nearly died on a California football field close to two years ago.

On Thanksgiving Day 2009, Blea, a 16-year-old junior and starting running back for San Jose High, tried to retrieve an underthrown ball during the opening possession of the 66th annual Big Bone rivalry against Lincoln High. Despite his modest 5-foot-5-inch, 140-pound frame, Matt was the recipient of all-league honors, as well as props from an opposing linebacker, who once told him, "I don't know how you ran me over, because you're so little."

As Blea jumped for the errant pass, a Lincoln High safety cleanly and legally put his shoulder into Blea's midsection. Because he was unable to brace himself, Blea's head whiplashed against San Jose City College Stadium's artificial turf.

"I knew instantly something was wrong," says Dave Blea, Matt's father and former San Jose defensive coordinator, who stood on the sidelines. "I couldn't see his pupils. I could only see the whites of his eyes."

Out of sight of the referees, who signaled play to continue as normal, Matt Blea crawled to the sidelines and lost consciousness. After paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive him, he was rushed to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for emergency brain surgery.

"They didn't think he was going to make it," says Dave Blea about his son, who remained comatose for 10 days. "They thought that he had suffered so much brain damage that he probably would have been mentally disabled."

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10 comments
days out for kids
days out for kids

Wally do not ever gets whatever what is the news is during things. He's got designate is acceptable. Asphalt. What i mean discourage start! Speculation the guy would will need to care about having a concussion should the guy tried athletic? Heh.

Amber Murray
Amber Murray

Your websites terrible! Loading issues won't let me read the article.

Doug Bittle
Doug Bittle

Walter never sees what the news is in anything. He's name is appropriate. Concrete. As in block head! Guess he wouldn't have to worry about getting a concussion if he played sports? Heh

SLA
SLA

I had a concussion when I was 5 from being thrown from a horse. Will it be illegal to ride hroses as a kid too? I probably had a harder time than everyone else in a lot of subjects too, but I was never "dumb" always perceptive and got decent grades, but I had a problem retaining the information without a lot of extra work or emotion involved. I forget things very easily, but not to the point that it's screwing up my life. At what point do we ask ourselves is a safe and boring world really living...? Now if they're playing sports, yeah, don't be a moron, get your kid out and take them to the doctor...but frankly, the damage is done at that point.

charles
charles

Uhhh how about an informed society???? personally I didin't know about the future problems but thanks to this article I do now....people like you should be hit in the head with a shovel.....after diggin of course.

Walter Concrete
Walter Concrete

I don't see what the news is here. It's common sense. Isn't western medicine and big pharma the saviours of the western world? It's obvious...if you get hit in the head you sit out and get checked. Sports is a game, it's not crucial to play with injury. In fact it's a programmed response for slaves to adhere to and be one of the pack.

 
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