The Concussion Crisis: CHS football players, trainers discuss how to solve, overcome concussion problem in football

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Misha Rekhter

The crunch of the hit is the hardest to hear, the most devastating sound for the audience to bear. The mashing of bodies is haunting as the players hurl their collection of muscle and bone at one another with devastating force. Each play is a battle for survival, bringing with it a large dosage of risk.

Dawson Cockerham, former CHS football player and senior, was inherently aware of this danger as he played in a game against North Central during his freshman year, but as he had done countless times before, he prepared to make the tackle. The ball was snapped and he assessed the play. Upon realizing the intention of the offense, he sprang into the form he had perfected and he lurched forward to stop the ball carrier.

The sound of the collision was audible. It was business as usual. Cockerham had succeeded in his duty. The ball carrier was downed and had received a harsh lick for running into their “zone.” Typically, this was a cause for celebration followed by preparation for the ensuing play, but in this instance, something was very wrong. Cockerham remained motionless as trainers flooded onto the field.

Pete O’Hara, Cockerham’s former coach and IB Psychology teacher, watched from the sidelines as the scene unfolded. O’Hara said he did not sense the gravity of the situation until Cockerham remained unmoving. O’Hara realizedsomething was very wrong. Soon, Cockerham was removed from the field and seated firmly on the sidelines where the trainers quickly diagnosed him with a concussion.

Cockerham said, “I was miserable sitting on the sidelines. I had no idea what was going on around me at all.”

According to CHS trainer Brittani Moore, when dealing with a possible concussion, the player is immediately removed from the field of play. If it is deemed that the player did sustain a concussion then they must go through a five-step protocol after being completely asymptomatic before they can resume activity. Normally, this only stops a player for a few weeks. However, with each concussion the severity grows; this was Cockerham’s fourth concussion.

 

The following spring, Cockerham received another concussion. Due to his concussions’ rapid succession, dangerous effects on Cockerham’s health escalated. His suspicions were soon confirmed: his football career was over.

As concussion awareness has risen,  there have been new initiatives in football to encourage safer tackling methods in hopes of preventing cases like Cockerham’s. According to Moore, Carmel has implemented the “heads up” tackling procedure promoted by USA Football, where players are taught to tackle in ways that do not damage their head and spines.

“These new tackling techniques are now being introduced to younger players so they will learn how to play safer right away,” Moore said.

According to Josh Schumann, football player and senior, there have been vast improvements in the safety of football. Moreover, players understand the negative ramifications concussions have on their academic abilities.

“School is a struggle. My memory isn’t as good as it used to be, but I know I need to do well if I want to reach my goals,” Cockerham said.

Schumann echoed Cockerham and said his future is in academics. For him,school always comes first.

“I love playing football, but I worry about concussions because that would be bad to my future,” Schumann said.

According to Moore, the trainers and medical staff at CHS are doing everything possible to help the athletes, but it’s ultimately up to them should they want to play.

“In Carmel, we raise awareness about concussions and there are parents who aren’t letting their kids play contact sports, but in other communities that is not the case. Playing football is their way out and a concussion won’t stop them,” Moore said.

Schumann said any contact sport like football will never be completely safe, and situations such as Cockerham’s will always occur, but as long as people love the sport, they are going to continue to play it no matter the consequences.

Cockerham also mentioned, “Football is responsible for some of my concussions, but football is also responsible for so many good things in my life. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything else.”

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