Head Games: Concussions in Football

“It was 3rd and long, I lined up at receiver for my first play of my collegiate career. My blood was pumping and my hands were shaking but I knew I was in the game for a reason. I ran a dig, which is a route that requires me to go into the teeth of defense. I turn my head and the ball is headed straight for me. Without hesitation I pluck it out of the air. When I open my eyes I was sitting on the bench and a trainer was shinning flashlight in my face. My first question to the trainer was, ‘Did I catch it’? She replied yes but for the life of me I couldn’t remember anything after lining up for the play. For me this was the first of many concussions that I would encounter in my days of playing football.”

Enter Joe Candarelli, a former Marist football player who’s shortened career is a first hand example of the impact of concussions.

A concussion is a minor traumatic brain injury that can affect how the brain works for a while and can lead to severe headache, changes in alertness, and loss of consciousness. In most contact sports you are susceptible to concussions but Football has had the most cases of litigation pertaining to concussions. Therefore numerous safety precautions have been put into place to prevent and recognize concussions. According to Loren Grush from Fox News Sports, College football players experience an average of 2.5 concussions for every 1,000 “game-related exposures,” and 25,000 players between the ages of 8 and 19 are taken to emergency rooms for concussions each year. “As a football player at any level you want to go back in the game after getting hit,” says Candarelli. “You want to do anything you possibly can you help your team win.” Joe experienced many concussions in his football career and most of them he shrugged off and continued to play. After experiencing pain off the field he was suggested to go and see a neurologist. He then got terrible news that he could never play football again. “It was determined that in addition to the 7 documented concussions, I had suffered somewhere upwards of 30 others,” he sadly explains. “I then had to make one of the toughest decisions of my life and it was to hang up my cleats.” Joe then had to stand in front of his team of brothers and tell them that he could no longer play football again. It was then that Head Coach Jim Parady offered him a spot on the staff as a student assistant coach.

Joe Candarelli rallying the Red Foxes together on special teams.

Joe Candarelli rallying the Red Foxes together on special teams.

Joe Candarelli isn’t the only Red Fox to have had their collegiate career cut short due to concussions. Sophomore Kyle Wurzel is another victim of the epidemic of concussions. Kyle came into Marist just a few years after Candarelli announced his retirement from football and he would soon realize the horrors of concussions. “When I experienced my first concussion I honestly didn’t worry much about it,” he explains as he looks back on the occurrence. “It was the second incident that raised worries because my symptoms lasted around two months. That had my family and uncle worried.” Wurzel’s uncle is a sports medicine doctor; he was the Doctor for the University of Texas’ athletic teams for 12 years so he trusts his judgment when it comes to injuries and concussions. “He was worried that since they had happened within a pretty short amount of time and that the severity had increased he wanted me to go to a neurologist.” It was then, just like Candarelli, that he went to see a neurologist who gave him similar advice but told him he could participate again if the symptoms went away. “I was able to comeback the next season but it was short lived after another blow to the head in practice sidelined me again,” Wurzel continues. “This was when it went real bad, as I wasn’t able to focus in the classroom and the headaches increased.” It was at that point that he too had to move on from football. He calls it “one of the hardest things he has had to do.” Kyle is now a student volunteer coach as he helps the team out with practice and organizes the scout team each week.

Sophomore Offensive Lineman Kyle Wurzel

Sophomore Offensive Lineman Kyle Wurzel

Concussions are dangerous injuries if they go unnoticed. That is why athletic trainers at all levels of play are out to help prevent and treat these injuries. Justin Giuliano one of the head trainers at Marist deals with athletes and concussions on a day-to-day basis. “When we (athletic trainers) come across a player that has been hit in the head severely we take great precaution,” says Giuliano. “Before the competitive season, we have our training staff review all concussion policies and procedures that outline injury definition, signs and symptoms, and the institution’s policy on concussion management.” Giuliano also talks about Marist’s official guidelines the deal with concussions below:

An overview of our Marist Sports Medicine concussion guidelines are, if a student athletes suffers a traumatic brain injury and is diagnosed with a concussion they will be held out of the remainder of the competition, undergo neurocognitive testing 24 hours post injury, under go activity modification regarding practice, games, classes, and activities daily living, we then do daily monitoring of symptoms, once symptom free we neurocognitive test them again and compare to baseline and 24 hour post test, if within normal limits the student athletes begins our return to play criteria. Return to play (RTP) consists of 5-day gradual return to activity, non-weight bearing day (stationary bike test), weight bearing (jog/run), non-contact practice, contact practice, cleared for competition. If any symptoms return the process starts over. (Justin Guiliano Head Athletic Trainer)

There are only so many things you can do to prevent concussions but playing a contact sport like football there will always be a high risk for concussions. Answers to prevent these are making the sport less contact, creating new or more improved helmets, and hopefully not the end of football. There is a covering for helmets that can help prevent concussions. The product is call the Guardian Cap, which consists of 37 foam pockets, each dissipate force individually.  This cap isn’t meant to completely prevent concussions; the manufacturers say the product helps to reduce the force of impacts, making hard hits much less intense. Marist has some of these caps and it is helping players that have previously had concussions able to practice with the cap to make them feel more comfortable out on the field. “The cap helps their transition back into the contact sport of football,” says Giuliano about the Guardian Caps. “In recent years players have been more alert about concussions and aren’t simply returning to play without being checked on by one of the athletic trainers. This is a big step in the prevention of concussions and the evolution of football injuries.”

The Guardian Cap used to help prevent concussions.

The Guardian Cap used to help prevent concussions.

To learn more about Guardian Caps, visit guardiancaps.com

The more players and coaches are aware of concussion symptoms and the precautions that go along with it, the less concussions and problems football players as a whole will have to go through for the rest of their lives. “There is life after football,” Candarelli explains. “We need to know that there is more for us out there than just going in for another play and potentially risking your life. It is a hard thing to do. As a football player all you know is to play the hardest you can to help the team. We need to know when to step back and think for the better.”

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