The students in my computer-assisted reporting class are about to launch a project on concussions. We called high schools around the state to ask a couple basic questions: does your school track all concussions in games and practice? Does your school require mandatory concussion education for all coaches?
When I asked the superintendent of one of the powerhouse high school football programs in Ohio whether his school tracks all concussions in games and practice, he responded "no comment."
My student journalists found Ohio high schools that have no concussion policies. They found superintendents who don't even know if the school has a concussion policy. They also found what must be a program where the student athletes wear helmets and run around with pillows and say "careful, careful, careful" as they run their plays. My students found a high school that says it has not suffered an athletic concussion in 9 years. As a colleague of mine who is familiar with the school system said, "they have more concussions than that in the hallway."
So here are some questions that journalists - not cheereleaders - should be asking. Why don't they? The answer is simple: because it's football.
Why would university presidents support an activity that causes brain damage?
Why would parents support an activity that causes brain damage? (Full disclosure: I certainly would have allowed my son to play. Now? Never. We are today with football where we were in the 1950's when you could page through a magazine and find an advertisement where a doctor told you the best cigarette to smoke.)
How could any high school not require mandatory concussion education training for all coaches?
How could any high school not require immediate parent notification of any suspected concussion?
Why aren't school superintendents asking legal counsel how the increased knowledge we now have about concussions has affected the litigation potential for the school district?
Why aren't university j-school directors pushing student journalists to ask the above questions?
If your school district is in need of a knowledgeable attorney, check with the attorney who wrote the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011 for the District of Columbia, Joseph Cammarata. I just did a videoskype interview with him for our student reporting project. When it comes to concussions, he is a wealth of information.
And if your son is heading out to play what's become the number one sport in America ask yourself one question: would you tell your son, "be sure to text while you drive." Would you want him to take that risk? What risk do you want your son to take with his brain?
As the CDC points out, concussions are serious brain injuries. In most concussions, the athlete never loses consciousness. We will continue to play sports. The problem usually doesn't come from the initial concussion; it comes from the player being put back into play, taking another hit to a brain that's already been rattled. That's what happened to the high school athlete that prompted the law to protect high school athletes in the state of Washington. Ohio has no such law. Why? Why do you think? Because it's football.