Football season is picking up, and with it comes a spate of stories about professional players suffering concussions… then we have stories about student athletes suffering concussions… head injuries on the rise… mild traumatic brain injuries increasing… trips to the ER… stories from individuals talking about either their own or their kids’ head injuries…
You’d think all the world were sustaining traumatic brain injuries.
Then again, maybe we are. I mean, look at the stats:
- 5.3 Million Americans are currently disabled by a traumatic brain injury
- 1.5 Million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year
- 80,000 Americans sustain long-term disability from TBI each year
- Every 21 Seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a traumatic brain injury
Source: Neurology Now, Sept/Oct 2006
That’s an awful lot of traumatic brain injuries (which include concussions — don’t let the semantics confuse you). And that was back in 2006 — who knows where we stand now.
That’s an awful lot of people — and only in this country, we’re not talking the rest of the world — getting “dinged”, or worse, and suffering long-term because of it. Crazy. When will this madness stop?
Or will it? I’m not sure it ever will — as far as I’m concerned, head injury is about as endemic to the human condition as promiscuous sex and violent crime. As damaging (and as interrelated) as they may be, and as much as we may try to reduce the incidence, the fact remains that they continue to happen.
It is so very hard to have a healthy perspective on this head injury situation. On the one hand, you don’t want to overreact, but on the other hand, you don’t want to under-state the significance of head injury. It’s serious business. People get badly hurt — even when they don’t look like they’re injured. And they suffer for a long, long time. Some people never rebound. They get lost in the crowd, fall between the cracks, and fade away into their own private hell.
And our culture just keeps churning them out — especially in the sports arena. Between professional football and student sports and cage matches and mixed-martial-arts fighting and extreme sports and the heavy-duty ‘roids folks are on (including student athletes) and the popular fascination with hard hits and rough pastimes… it’s just one big head injury circus waiting to entertain all the folks sitting home on the couch with a cold beer, waiting for the blood to start flowing.
I’m a bit punchy tonight, I’ll admit. But buried deep inside this thought process, there’s a rhyme and a reason. More and more awareness is coming out about brain injuries and the long-term effects of head trauma. More and more players are agreeing to donate their brains to research. More and more air time is given to concussion and who’s on the disabled list this week, thanks to post-concussive syndrome symptoms. More and more stories of chronic traumatic encephalitis are coming out, and more and more tales of soldiers getting hammered by IEDs and other blasts are making the news.
But still we parade on like it’s all good fun — or at least the kind of thing that we should take in stride. You get hit, you go down, you wobble around when you get up, and nobody thinks anything of it, should you keep yourself in play. You get dinged, you drop to the ground, you get up dimmer and slower than you were before, and the game goes on. You get blindsided on the ice, you land hard and have to be carted off on a backboard, and when you’re not back playing in two weeks, the world starts to forget about you. If you do manage to come back (before all the symptoms have really cleared), you’re lauded as a brave soul.
And we think it’s fine.
Why even bother with all the pres and all the stories? Our culture loves its hard hits and its blindside tackles. We love to watch people get the crap pummeled out of them every Monday night. We love to watch our heroes go down, and get up and continue to play, no matter what. We get all hopped up on adrenaline and drama, get high off our bodies’ stress response hormones, and we worship the ground the most risk-taking, danger-seeking players walk on. We love our heroes, and we expect everything of them — except basic human vulnerability, and simple biological susceptibility.
It’s football season, and student athletics are swinging into high gear.
Oh, take two — they’re small.