Donald Trump made a strong statement this week when he referred to NFL concussions as a “ding on the head” at his campaign speech in Florida. His remarks added to his earlier criticism that “football has become soft” due to new NFL protocols, intended to reduce the number of head collisions in the game. It’s no surprise that Trump’s views have been seen as shocking by many in the professional sports realm. Even more so because of the attention the NFL has received in recent years about the seriousness of concussions. Head injuries in sport should never be taken lightly. Let’s take a look at the 5 reasons why Trump’s concussions remarks are absurd:
1. You don’t need to be hit hard to receive brain damage
A recent Ted talk presented evidence that even moderate rotational forces on the head can cause long-term damage. The brain has a Jell-O like composition and the area affected is the central part of the brain. When the head twists and turns, there could be tear between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. So what may look like ‘a little ding’ from afar may be no joke when a player is hit from the side.
2. Concussions can lead to increased risk of future concussions
A more commonly observed cognitive effect from Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries (mTBIs) is reduced processing speed. With fast and dynamic play in sports, being a fraction of a second behind leaves an athlete more vulnerable. In addition, processing the game more slowly leads to greater cognitive pressure. This results in narrowing of peripheral vision and reduced awareness of impact threats. Reduced awareness is something shown to increase the risk of being ‘blind-sided’ in the NHL – a major factor in concussion risk. So a single concussion is not the end story, it can leave a legacy of risk for the rest of each athlete’s career.
3. Repeat concussions can have accumulative effects
Studies suggest that athletes with a history of concussion may have more severe subsequent concussions, and take longer to recover. In addition, evidence suggests that repeat concussions lead to a greater number of symptoms (headaches, nausea, memory loss etc.), as well an increase in the severity of the symptoms. This may correlate with changes in white matter in the brain following concussion. As the effects of repeat concussions become more serious overtime, what may be a minor concussion in itself, could have major consequences.
4. Concussion symptoms can last for months
Trump mocked the idea of an NFL player taking the rest of the season off because of a ‘ding.’ The real life effects of concussion symptoms, however, can be completely debilitating. They can make day to day life a real challenge. In some cases, severe symptoms last for six months or longer. It’s still not understood why the recovery time can be so different from one person to another. The truth remains though, that little can be done when they persist.
5. The long-term effects of concussion can lead to mental health problems
Surveys of retired professional athletes show increased risk for depression. More disturbingly, there also seems to be a link between concussions and suicide. In fact, the long-term risk of suicide increases three-fold among adults who have had a concussion. Furthermore, concussions correlate to a build-up of disease-related plaques in the brain, which are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Trump criticized NFL protocols to make the game safer. His reasoning? A safer game means less ‘incredible tackles,’ which makes the game less entertaining. With the growing scientific evidence about the seriousness of concussions, however, it’s probably a topic that should stay out of political campaigns.
Featured Image: Vice Sports
Jean Castonguay is the President and CEO of NeuroTracker from CogniSens Inc., founded in 2009 with Dr. Jocelyn Faubert. CogniSens Inc. is a privately-owned neuroscience company that specializes in measuring, identifying and improving cognitive function. In addition, it is also developing and commercializing technologies acquired from the Visual Psychophysics and Perception Laboratory of Université de Montréal, directed by Dr. Faubert.
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