Concussions continue to spark debate on football player safety


Joshua Tarafa

The Lane Varsity team completes a walkthrough ahead of their second game of the season.

By Joshua Tarafa, Editor-in-Chief

A promising athlete lying lifelessly on his back with the athletic trainer and coaches surrounding him is a fairly common occurrence at a high school football game.

At Lane’s season opener alone, there was an incident for each team where a player was slow to get up and greeted by medical personnel. Teammates kneeled and hoped that the injuries were not serious.

The chance that the injured player has suffered a concussion is low but is still increasingly concerning. With newer technology, it is now known that the long term negative effects as a result of the injury are not as rare as once thought. At all levels of contact football, concussions can occur.

A recent study by a Boston brain bank showed, across the professional and high school levels, 90 percent of all players will end up with brain damage to some degree according to ESPN.

Another growing concern is that there are multiple types of brain damage that can occur due to hits on the field. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who first discovered the disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), recently discussed his opinion of the growing attention CTE has received and the safety of football.

“CTE is just one disease in a spectrum of many diseases caused by brain trauma,” Omalu said in an ESPN interview. “If he doesn’t have CTE, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have brain damage.”

At the high school level and younger, these risks can raise concerns amongst players and their parents.

Christian Banuelos, Div. 163, joined the football team this year as a freshman. He said he realizes the risks involved when playing the sport or any sport in general, but still chooses to play regardless.

“It definitely is a scary thing to think of, but Lane does provide a lot of support if a concussion were to happen during a sport,” Banuelos said. “During practice and games, we always have a trainer on duty to help players if they’re injured.”

For the new school year there is a new athletic trainer. Mitch Wright will be in charge of working with all athletes who suffer concussions or any injury going forward. He estimates that this year there could theoretically be 5-10 concussions on the football team alone based on the number of players. However, he did say it can vary by season.

“It depends on the conditions and the collisions and how many head to head contacts and the magnitude of those contacts,” Wright said.

There has already been one concussion suffered on the Varsity team. Junior offensive lineman Santiago Matias was concussed during a practice on Aug. 16. He was then cleared of having a concussion by a doctor Aug. 28 but is not yet cleared to return to game action.

After being cleared by a doctor, the athlete is entered into the Lane concussion protocol which is monitored by the athletic trainer.  The trainer then makes the decision of when to clear the athlete for play.

Even after being sidelined for multiple weeks as a result of his concussion, Matias said his opinion of playing football remains the same.

“I don’t have any concerns about the future after suffering a concussion this early in life because as long as you take care of your body and brain, I feel there won’t be any worries in the future,” Matias said.

Wright shared a similar opinion when discussing the realistic possibility of a high school football player suffering long term brain damage like CTE.

“At the high school level they don’t have the number of exposures that they have at that level [professional and collegiate] and the force and velocity is not the same,” Wright said. “The research shows that it is the subconcussive blows that’s causing the long term issues.”

While those inside and outside the game of football continue to disagree on the risks involved with football later in life, the fact that concussions are a prominent part of the sport remains. This leaves the tough decisions on parents of aspiring football players.

“My father told me that he’s seen bad things happen to some NFL players during a game and wanted to make sure that I know what I’m getting into,” Banuelos said.

His father still allowed him to try out for football to start his career. Not all parents are as supportive and there appears to be a trend of decreasing signups occurring at youth levels.

This year the Highland Park district had to cancel their tackle football league as a result of not enough signups due to concerns with injuries, according to WGN.

Whether the trend will continue remains to be seen in the seasons ahead. However, players that have chosen to continue to take the field at Lane seem to be less shaken by the risks.

“Concussions can happen at anytime,” Matias said. “It’s not an injury that only athletes get but anyone can suffer a concussion.”