Tackling concussions

By: Gabi Jolly and Amaya McNealey

Designed by Erin Stender

The glaring lights, the roar of the stadium, the cool turf beneath his cleats. For Jalon McMorris, it’s a feeling like no other.

“When my adrenaline’s rushin’, I can’t feel nothin’,” said McMorris, a junior football player at Tuscaloosa County High School.  

McMorris, like most high school athletes, tends to ignore personal physical trauma for the sake of the game and loses sight of a bigger issue — his well-being.

The “warrior mentality” is an athlete’s belief in the need to put the team before himself, even if the athlete is risking his personal health, said Tom Arenberg, author of the paper “Hit in the Head: Media Coverage of the Football Concussion Controversy.” This philosophy mocks weakness and forces players to demonstrate extreme strength.

Donnie Lee a junior wide receiver for the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, said high school athletes are at risk for concussions because some coaches don’t have their best interests in mind.

“The culture of being tough outweighs the concussion,” Lee said.

Regardless of how strong a person is, researchers say no one is really immune to the effects of a concussion.

“It’s that mental capacity and the potential for long-term damage that makes the concussion so different,” said Andy Billings, professor at The University of Alabama in the Department of Journalism and Creative Media. “And I think that’s why they're a lot more serious, especially because after athletes retire they still want to have their full mental capacity.”

McMorris said players on his team, when faced with a choice between athletic success and self care, don’t voluntarily take action to protect their own physical, mental or emotional health.

This mindset is clearly portrayed by football players at every level and contributes to one of the most dangerous injuries to exist: the concussion, which can cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in some players, according the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.  

“Players lie all the time about injuries because they don’t want to be sat out or if they don’t want to not play because scouts or someone may be there,” said T.J. McMiller, a senior at Tuscaloosa County High School.

That mentality encourages athletes to ignore injuries.

In the U.S., 47 percent of football players will suffer a concussion, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention. Across the nation, players are colliding, constantly sustaining blows to the head that may seem insignificant at the time. These bumps can result in serious head trauma, leading to brain damage or even death. A player who has received a single concussion is twice as likely to receive another one, according to 2015 study in the journal Military Medicine.

Generally, every high school football player experiences an injury during his or her career. However, injuries such as a torn meniscus in the knee, a broken collarbone, a torn rotator cuff and others can be repaired surgically, while concussions are inoperable.

“It’s that mental capacity and the potential for long-term damage that makes the concussion so different,” Billings said. “A lot of things require surgery but we don’t have a surgery that can go in and alleviate issues of concussions.”

Knowing these risks, players still continue to ignore rules meant to protect them and the seriousness of the condition, while instead focusing purely on success on the field. Football teaches strength and dedication, but many players take this mentality past the breaking point to where it could cause serious harm.

Although victories may seem sweet enough to endure the pain of a head trauma, nothing can relieve the long-term consequences developed from accumulating CTE.

“If they really love football they will – if you treat it like it’s just a game probably not – but if you really need this and it’s something you really love yourself, you’re gonna keep pushing through it,” McMorris said.