From the NFL to Loras: How Concussions Affect Athletes

Nausea. Fatigue. Memory problems. Vomiting. Epilepsy.

Those are just some of the symptoms of a concussion, according to the Mayo Clinic website. As the Mayo Clinic describes it, “A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions.”

Concussions are a common injury, particularly in sports. However, with some sports like football, they are frighteningly prevalent. So much so, that PBS’ Frontline aired a documentary called “League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis,”which explored the issue of the NFL and its complicated history with concussions and player injuries.

Some glaring examples are former Patriots and Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, whose suicide in 2012 and concurrent autopsy examination helped bring the issue to the forefront. The autopsy of Mike Webster of the Steelers (featured in Frontline), changed the NFL forever by jump-starting the conversation over a decade ago.

Last weekend, Loras held its homecoming game against Coe. Forget for a moment that they lost 56-0. Every week, Loras football players still have something that keeps them going, even when the odds are against them. Still, there remains the threat of concussions and other injuries to our athletes.

“I think (the players) are safe. Loras follows the NCAA guidelines, which are quite stringent,” noted Tammi Martin, Registered Nurse at the Health Center at Loras. “With the Health Center, however, we look beyond the sports component and look at their whole health.”

She also added that the Health Center checks on injured athletes as often as needed, in person or through email to see if they’re improving.

Our top sports people at Loras are also on hand to deal with injuries like concussions. Head Loras football coach Paul Mierkiewicz stated, “The differences between then [the 1980s] and now is night and day. Now, we teach our athletes about things like hydration, and our equipment is much better than it was at the time. Also, our athletes are stronger than they were back then.”

Mierkiewicz also mentioned how Loras educates trainers and athletes of concussions, and emphasizes things like proper technique and monitoring and protecting our athletes.

As far as concussions, he said that there are tests that athletes take once they’ve had a concussion to see if they’re fit to go back in the game. However, there have been some scary attempts by previous athletes to avoid these tests.

Loras Director of Athletics Bob Quinn had high regards for Loras’ performance on dealing with injuries.

“We’re at the top end on dealing with injuries, and we have a state of the art program,” said Quinn. “We’re extremely well-prepared if an injury happens because we have a fully qualified and outstanding group, and we have good connections with the city emergency services.”

On a bleaker note, Quinn did emphasize the seriousness of concussions and mentioned that injuries can end the athletic careers of some students.

Loras Head Athletic Trainer Chris Kamm shared some of his thoughts as well.

“With athletes suffering a concussion, they have to go through a concussion protocol. And to be released, they have to be approved by a doctor and get a physician’s clearance,” said Kamm.

For extremely serious injuries, Kamm noted the NCAA does cover medical bills.  One such event occurred when Kamm treated a football player at a previous college who suffered a fractured cervical spine during a game.

To give us a sense of the students’ perspectives, a couple of Loras athletes gave their experiences and views on the matter.

Sophomore Keontae Neely, football player and track and field team member, shared his experience of suffering a concussion.

“I was pole vaulting, I was coming down and I hit myself in the face,” he said. “I got a headache (that) felt like a migraine. But I think the black eye lasted longer than the concussion did.”

Neely’s concussion was minor, and he says he’s not aware of any long-term effects, but it did have an effect on his performance afterwards.

“It has made me more cautious,” said Neely. “Though there aren’t really concussions in track, with football, I take more precautionary actions.”

Neely’s account provides a look at the real-life implications of suffering a concussion.

Frank Pehlke, #53 on the football team, offered some contrasting views on the matter.

“Concussions in football are part of the game, and every sport has its own injuries,” he said.

Pehlke suffered a concussion as a senior in high school, and had to wait four days before returning to action. However, he expressed concern about the shift in focus to the player’s heads, which has left the lower bodies of players more susceptible. He also feels that worrying too much about getting injured while playing takes away from the love that you have for the game. He did, though, have praise for Loras’ treatment of their athlete.

“They do a fantastic job, a good job of taking care of us. I feel very comfortable playing for Loras.”

Some of the interviewees handed out advice to athletes. Kamm said, “You have one body and one brain, so make smart choices.”

Pehlke added, “When you’re playing, you should play to play.”

Neely offered one amusing quip, “Don’t pole vault.”

Whatever advice there is to offer, the concussion situation remains very serious, and while the NFL is struggling to find peace with it, Loras offers enough assurance that it is doing a good job with the matter.

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