"It's not dangerous to play with a concussion. You've got to sacrifice for the sake of the team. The only way I come out is on a stretcher."
Quotes like that-from a high school football player in a 2002 New York Times article, make Professor Kevin M. Guskiewiez cringe.
"Those words are really scary," he said. "We need to do a much better job of educating young players about the dangers of concussion."
Guskiewiez was guest speaker during a concussion symposium sponsored by Marietta Memorial Health System's SportsMed at the Marietta Holiday Inn Tuesday night.
Founding director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center and the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Guskiewiez is an expert on concussion.
"Statistics suggest concussions can occur in many sports, including football, lacrosse, wrestling, ice hockey, and even cheerleading," he said. "But football rates on the highest end of that list."
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works.
Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth.
Coaches have observed the following signs of concussion in athletes:
Appears dazed or stunned
Is confused about assignment or position
Forgets an instruction
Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
Answers questions slowly
Loses consciousness (even briefly)
Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
Can't recall events prior to hit or fall
Can't recall events after hit or fall
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/concussion/sports
Guskiewiez said a 2003 study indicated that 75 percent of athletes surveyed did not know the signs or symptoms of concussion. He added that more than 50 percent of high school football concussions may go unreported because the player doesn't want to be removed from the game or disappoint his coach.
But Guskiewiez added that concussion is a serious condition that can cause permanent brain injury or even death. Repeated concussions can have long-term effects like depression and cognitive impairment.
"And mild cognitive impairment is a precursor to Alzheimers disease," he said.
One common myth Guskiewiez said he hears from parents and coaches is that players are protected from concussion because they wear a football helmet.
"Helmets are not designed to prevent concussion," he said. "Companies are building good helmets that can prevent structural head injuries, but concussion is a functional-not a structural injury."
Rehabilitation treatment for concussion is not available at this time, Guskiewiez said.
"That's something we need to concentrate on for the future," he said.
Meanwhile he said the best option is prevention of concussion through education of trainers, coaches and players as well as rule changes that make contact resulting in concussion less likely.
Guskiewiez also encourages support of statewide concussion legislation that would include education of athletes, coaches and parents; institution of a concussion policy and emergency action plan; removal from practice or play of any player at the time of a suspected concussion; and medical evaluation and return to play clearance by a health care provider trained in concussion management.
Rex Foster of Parkersburg is the parent of Parkersburg High football player Kyle Foster as well as a certified football official in West Virginia and Ohio.
"This was a fantastic presentation," he said. "But it's going to take a change in the culture of football."
He said concussion is a real concern for area football players.
"It's all about educating kids and teaching them that this is a serious issue," Foster said. "We have to be smarter than we were 25 years ago in football."
One of his prime concerns is at the youth football level.
"I'm not sure all of our youth football coaches are properly trained about concussion," Foster said. "As an official, if you see a kid hit with a concussion you have to get him off the field. You have to have the common sense not to put these kids' safety at risk."
He said it's somewhat reassuring that many schools are now requiring athletic trainers to work with teams.
Jennifer Offenberger, communications director for the Marietta Memorial Health System, said the symposium was focused on providing more information for the local community.
"Concussions are growing in number every year, and it's an issue that's more talked about recently," she said. "Nationally there were about 170,000 visits to the emergency room for youths under the age of 19 with head-related injuries last year, and we felt it would be beneficial to bring a renown authority like Kevin to talk about concussions with local physicians, coaches, and parents."