Essays Football Concussions

Essays Football Concussions-11
" Although CTE is often clinically indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s — patients suffer from memory loss, mood disorders, and depression — this degenerative illness has a very different cause. It is what happens when the brain is smashed into the skull again and again. However, there is disturbing evidence that CTE is occurring among players at rates many times higher than normal.

" Although CTE is often clinically indistinguishable from Alzheimer’s — patients suffer from memory loss, mood disorders, and depression — this degenerative illness has a very different cause. It is what happens when the brain is smashed into the skull again and again. However, there is disturbing evidence that CTE is occurring among players at rates many times higher than normal.

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(The latest guidelines suggest that most concussed subjects require at least 10 days to recover, with adolescents generally needing a few days more.) While the brain is restoring itself, people suffer from a long list of side effects, which are intended to keep them from thinking too hard.

Bright lights are painful; memory is fragile and full of holes; focus is impossible. In the aftermath of a traumatic brain injury, the brain remains extremely fragile. Teenagers are especially susceptible to these mass cellular suicides.

In 2002, a team of neurologists surveying several hundred high school football players concluded that athletes who had suffered three or more concussions were nearly ten times more likely to exhibit multiple “abnormal” responses to head injury, including loss of consciousness and persistent amnesia. The answer returns us to the mechanics of head trauma. Although the brain is surrounded by a cushion of cerebrospinal fluid, a severe impact or abrupt change in head speed can push those three pounds of meat straight through the fluid, so that it crashes into the cranium.

A 2004 study, meanwhile, revealed that football players with multiple concussions were 7.7 times more likely to experience a “major drop in memory performance” and that three months after a concussion they continued to experience “persistent deficits in processing complex visual stimuli.” What’s most disturbing, perhaps, is that these cognitive deficits have a real-world impact: When compared with similar students without a history of concussions, athletes with two or more brain injuries demonstrate statistically significant lower grade-point averages. (The brain has no pain receptors, which means the impact can only be perceived indirectly, as a throbbing headache or loss of consciousness.) In recent years, it’s become clear that the severity of a concussion is only indirectly related to the physical force of the impact. And sometimes they are felled by incidental contact.

According to Mc Kee, this is the earliest evidence of CTE ever recorded.

Needless to say, this disturbing data has not dissuaded anyone from playing in the NFL: The tremendous rewards offered to professional athletes help compensate for the potential risk. But this same calculus doesn’t apply to high school athletes, that pipeline of future talent.This uncertainty haunts the Mater Dei coaching staff, who struggle on a daily basis to effectively manage the risk of concussions among their players.The new research on concussions has allowed them to prevent many of the worst injuries, but it has also made them increasingly aware of the ubiquity of injury.Although these teenagers are suffering concussions at higher rates and with worse consequences — the head trauma of football targets the most vulnerable areas of the developing brain — the overwhelming majority of these kids will never play the sport competitively again.They are getting paid nothing and yet they are paying the highest cost.(The odds are significantly worse for student athletes — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million brain injuries are suffered by teenage players every year.) In fact, the chances of getting a concussion while playing high school football are approximately three times higher than the second most dangerous sport, which is girls’ soccer.While such head injuries have long been ignored — until recently, players were resuscitated with smelling salts so they could re-enter the game — it’s now clear that these blows have lasting consequences.(In 2008, Sports Illustrated ranked Mater Dei as the second best high school athletic program in the country.) All this success has generated a loyal fan base: It’s not unusual for Mater Dei football games to draw 25,000 fans on a Friday night. The coaches are vigilant; the equipment is top of the line; the latest medical recommendations are exactingly followed.The school is regularly forced to rent out Angels stadium. There are religious reminders everywhere: little sculptures of Jesus in the doorway, triptychs of saints in the hallway, holy slogans in the weight room. And yet, even when a football program does everything right, it’s still not clear if it’s enough.The consequences appear to be particularly severe for the adolescent brain.According to a study published last year in Neurosurgery, high school football players who suffered two or more concussions reported mental problems at much higher rates, including headaches, dizziness, and sleeping issues.

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