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February 5, 2014

Despite concussions, football players feel pressure to stay in the game


According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are 11 recorded concussions for every 10,000 high school games and practices, twice the rate of college players. But researchers believe the number is actually much higher because many go unreported.

“I have had about 15 to 20 concussions, and I have only reported four,” said one anonymous player at Austin High School in Austin, Texas. While that number is based on personal experience rather than medical evidence, any concussion can lead to memory loss, sleep problems and changes in behavior.

In a sports culture where on-field performance is paramount and kids just want to play, often players try to hide their injuries to stay in the game.

“Sixteen-year-old kid, you’re invincible,” said Chuck Cook, a graduate of Black River Falls High School in Wisconsin. “You want to get back on the field as quickly as you can. And a concussion, you can’t get — you get a headache, but you really don’t feel it. It is not like a sprained ankle.”

Cook said that while in high school, he and his friends would cheat the so-called imPACT test, a set of associations and memory questions used to diagnose concussions.

“I did not take the impact test seriously. My freshman sophomore year, I tested low on purpose. I didn’t want to have to sit out a football game because I had a concussion,” he explained.

It was only after Montana player Dylan Steigers died after a hard hit in 2010 that his parents pushed for a state law called the Dylan Steigers Protection of Youth Athletes Act that requires each school district to text for concussions and set guidelines for when an athlete can start playing again.

“We will never recover,” said Dylan’s mother Cyndi Steigers. “But we can do — if you can do something positive in your life to help somebody else, that’s very healing.”

Warm up questions
  1. What do you know about concussions?
    • How do you get one?
    • How do you know you have one?
  2. Who do you think is more at risk to permanent damage when they have a concussion, high school football players or NFL football players?
Discussion questions and writing prompts
  1. What kind of pressure are student athletes under to stay in the game regardless of a concussion?
  2. Why do researchers believe that concussions are under-reported in high school sports?
  3. Is there a risk of permanent damage when someone gets a concussion?
  4. Imagine you are a high school football player and you get knocked out during your state champion final’s game in the third quarter and the game is tied.  Do you tell the truth about your concussion and sit it out or would you lie to get back into the game?
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