After having been long overlooked as an unavoidable part of playing contact sports, concussions have only recently started to get the attention they deserve. The rise in media coverage is partly a result of recent controversies in sports leagues such as the N.H.L. and the N.F.L, in which athletes have started to demand that their safety be taken seriously. After the recent rash of concussion-linked suicides by players — the death of N.F.L. player Junior Seau being an oft-cited example — along with the publication of numerous studies citing the danger of concussions, it seems that people are finally starting to take concussions seriously.
Luckily for us, it is clear that Middlebury is ahead of some of its peer institutions when it comes to dealing with concussions. But there are still some strides to be made.
As a society, and, on a smaller level, as a college community, we still have much to learn about concussions. Too often concussions are brushed off as nothing serious. We are calling for our community to be more aware of the severity of concussions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year. And athletes are not the only ones susceptible to concussions.
A concussion can no longer be dismissed as a minor injury. Studies have found that concussions are often linked to depression and serious changes in emotional stability. And the danger only increases when concussions go undiagnosed, which, unfortunately, the majority of them do. Additional blows to the head that occur after a concussion become increasingly more debilitating.
Students who are suffering from a concussion should get the support and understanding they need from their professors. Therefore, professors must be educated on the true nature of concussions. There are many groups on campus that have the potential to raise this awareness — the health center, athletic department, Student Wellness Committee and commons deans are just a few possibilities.
A student suffering from a concussion may be temporarily unable to complete his or her academic work or attend class. Professors should understand that this is a case of putting a student’s health above academics. The time it takes to recover from a concussion varies from person to person, and students should not be dissuaded from taking the time necessary to fully recover before returning to class. Student-athletes return to academics before athletics after suffering a concussion, but only after a gradual recovery period. What must be clear is that concussions are a health issue — they are not just a side effect of athletics.
Some groups on campus have already started to take the initiative to raise awareness of concussions. One such group is Concussions Speak, which Emma Kitchen ’14.5 founded as an outreach and awareness program for people with concussions. It is clear that students are starting to take concussions seriously. In fact, on Nov. 11, the SGA passed the Resolution for Inclusive Athletic Injury Care on Campus in order to expand access to sports trainers to non-varsity athletes. We call on the administration to enforce this resolution. During last year’s season alone, four Middlebury Water Polo players had concussions, but they could not access the College’s trainers because Water Polo is not a varsity sport. This resolution must be enforced so instances such as these can be prevented in the future. The health of all Middlebury students — varsity athletes or not — must be a priority.
Our brains are much of the reason why we attend Middlebury. We all need to be aware of how to protect them.