Check and protect your melon

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photo taken by Sasha Kandrach at Magness Arena

Engaging in an activity that is proven to be detrimental to your health is downright idiotic, in all honesty. One wouldn’t continue to eat fast food everyday knowing the multiple health risks that pose as a potential outcome. One wouldn’t continue smoking knowing 90% of lung cancers are related to cigarette smoking, obviously there are exceptions- plenty of people who choose to ignore the obvious, but why?

While habitually consuming fast food and smoking are two of the more widely known health issues, the same logic applies to concussions; why continue to allow youth and professional athletes to risk mental and cognitive health in order to benefit from their talent at a sport?

According to Prevacus, in the past decade alone, the rate for sustaining a sports-related concussion has doubled. Protect the brain.org estimates that 1.6-3.8 million sports-related concussions occur per year in the United States. Out of that enormous number, one must question how many of those conclusions were treated properly while the patients simultaneously followed proper concussion protocol?

More often than not, athletes underestimate their symptoms and coaches or debate with trainers to be “cleared” back to full participation.

“I definitely used to under exaggerate the extent of the hit I received [in soccer] because I didn’t want to stop playing. In retrospect, I was forced to sacrifice the sport I love entirely,” Courtney Domme said. Domme is a current freshman at the University of Denver, who had to quit playing soccer after sustaining her fifth concussion. Domme switched to volleyball before she endured three knee surgeries and quit impact sports all together including, a chance to play Division l at the University of Washington.

Domme is a single example out of thousands of cases in which, athletes are forced to end their athletic careers prematurely as a result of mistreating the severity of traumas to the head. Unfortunately, there are a fair amount of cases where athletes aren’t as lucky as Domme and are forced to quit their sport involuntarily after receiving life-altering cognitive damage.

Three-sport athlete and senior at Palmer High School, Sam Hesselberg, died in December of 2010 of a ruptured artery caused by brain bleeding. Hesselberg suffered a hit to the head in a hockey game four days prior to his sudden death. Hesselberg didn’t show any obvious signs of a head injury — as indicated by the school’s trainer — nor did he vocalize any concerns, yet Hesselberg’s fate would soon become permanent.

Nearly six years later, one of Hesselberg’s close friends and former teammates, Sam Krakauer plans to hike all of Colorado’s fourtneers this summer to raise awareness for concussions. While Hesselberg’s case is extreme, its still a deadly reality to factor into what implications ignoring or underestimating head traumas pose.

The human brain is the most complex and vital organ in the body; the three-pound organ is the center intelligence, controls movements, interprets senses, dictates emotions and judgments, and is the source of all qualities that define our humanity according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. So why treat to crucial organ with such little respect? What sport or activity is worth jeopardizing the longevity of a properly functioning brain or the mental and emotional health of an individual?

Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which is a progressive degenerative disease that shows symptoms of dementia, memory loss, aggression, confusion, and depression up to decades after initial trauma(s). Omalu made his findings on the autopsy of Mike Webster, former center for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Omalu’s discovery inspired the release of the film, Concussion, starring Will Smith as Omalu. The production highlighted the fatal impacts concussions pose and the interference with longevity, as a much-need attention grabber towards the general public.

“I’m a huge Seahawks fan [Seattle’s National Football League team], in fact, I embrace each time the players take and dish out brutal hits. After watching Concussion my mindset definitely changed, I don’t want my favorite players to end up like that.” Annie Langston said. Langston is a first-year student at Denver who used to play soccer, but has never had a brain injury or been exposed to severity of them prior to watching the film.

“Lockette [one of Seattle’s former receivers] just recently announced he’s retiring after suffering from a serious neck injury,” Langston said. “I respect his decision. He was very vocal about preserving his life outside of football and maintaining that quality of life. I respect his decision just as much as I would respect if another player called it quits because of too many concussions.”

Additional recent, advancements are increasing the discussion of concussions as part of the movement to spread awareness.

In November of the past year, the United States Soccer Federation announced there would be limitations promptly implementing heading the ball; prohibiting players under 10 and reducing the amount of headers players 11-13 engage in.

“I think this is a great step in the right direction,” Brooke Braden said. Braden is currently playing Division l soccer for the University of Northern Colorado. “When you’re that young your body isn’t even fully developed nor can it handle that kind of impact. It’s really pointless at that age to have it all. I think this will clean the game up and help eliminate concussions early on.”

Ultimately, the desired change regarding the severity of concussions needs to be formed from all participants of athletics including; coaches and spectators. The attitude that concussions are subordinate to other injuries is of past times. Accepting that trauma to the head is dangerous and poses a variety of potential threats far greater than other common injuries is the reality of athletics in modern day.

As players, coaches, trainers, and spectators we need to advocate for the health of our brains, and the opportunity to continue healthy quality of life full functionality outside of the field, court, or ice. The growing need to prioritize the importance of cognitive health over endangering one’s future beyond athletics, is a future that does exist in this world.

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