All levels of football must strive to avoid “second impact syndrome”

Sensors inside football players helmets help detect possible concussions
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Apart from the potential long-term effects of suffering two concussions in a short period of time, there’s a much more important short-term concern that arises from the possibility of a player suffering a concussion before he has recovered from a prior one.

The phenomenon is known as “second impact syndrome.” That term was trending on Thursday night, after Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered an obvious head injury against the Bengals. If he had suffered a concussion on Sunday that had not yet fully resolved itself, he could have experienced second impact syndrome.

Here’s an explanation of the condition, from the National Library of Medicine: “The generally accepted cause relates to sustaining a second concussion before the brain has a chance to recover from the initial insult fully. The athlete will rapidly develop altered mental status and a loss of consciousness within seconds to minutes of the second hit resulting in catastrophic neurological injury. The catastrophic injury results from the dysfunctional cerebral blood flow autoregulation leading to an increase in intracranial pressure. The pressure rapidly develops and eventually results in brain herniation. The herniation may occur either medially across the falx cerebri or inferiorly through the foramen magnum, resulting in brain stem injury and rapid deterioration and leading to death within 2 to 5 minutes.”

The term was coined in 1984, after a football player suffered a head injury, returned to play again four days later, suffered another head injury, collapsed, and died.

The NFL has never experienced a player dying on the field from a head injury. In August 2001, Korey Stringer died due to heat exhaustion at training camp. In October 1971, Chuck Hughes died during a game, from a heart ailment.

In 2009, not long before Congress forced a concussion epiphany upon the NFL, quarterback Carson Palmer predicted that someone will eventually die on the field.

“Everyone talks about the good old days, when guys were tough and quarterbacks got crushed all the time,” Palmer said, “but back in the day, there weren’t defensive ends that were Mario Williams — 6-7, 300 pounds, 10 percent body fat, running a 4.7 40

Although the NFL has avoided an on-field fatality due to head trauma, high school players die every year. Last month alone, at least two died: Xavier McClain in New Jersey, and Yahir Cancino in Texas.

In 2009, the state of Washington enacted the first law aimed at protecting high school players from suffering a second head injury before the first one healed. The NFL was instrumental in getting all states to adopt similar legislation named for Zachary Lystedt, who experienced a catastrophic brain injury after two head injuries in the same game.

The NFL’s obvious goal is to prevent second impact syndrome. That’s why the investigation regarding Tagovailoa’s return to play on Sunday after displaying gross motor instability has become so important. The loophole that allowed doctors to clear Tagovailoa could lead, in the wrong set of circumstances, to the worst-case scenario for the player.

It’s critical that the NFL get this right. There’s no hope for lower levels of the sport ever fully and properly protecting football players if the NFL can’t. (Even if the NFL can figure it out, the lower levels remain woefully behind the curve.)

The easiest fix, in the aftermath of the Tagovailoa controversy, would be to immediately make gross motor instability a “no go,” with no exceptions or loopholes. We’ve asked the league whether that change will be made before Sunday’s games. Hopefully, it will be.

If a player who has shown obvious wobbling can be cleared to return to an NFL game, he can be cleared to return to a high-school game, too. The sooner the NFL sends a loud and clear message that what we all saw last Sunday should never happen at any level of football, the message will be received by every level of football.

23 responses to “All levels of football must strive to avoid “second impact syndrome”

  1. Its not our desicion if Tua wants to be an NFL player as an occupation. If he doesnt want the risk of an occasional stinger he is free to find another job anywhere that will hire him.

    Lets not make this a bigger deal than it is.

  2. Goodell will do nothing.

    The light punishment of the brazen tampering of 3 different teams while covering up the tanking mentioned as the reason why Flores was fired, is the proof.

    Goodell and Ross are proven cheaters.

  3. This reminds me of people who smoke cigarettes. I see countless people smoking, regardless of being bombarded with evidence you can possibly get cancer. I think enough evidence is out here that if you choose to play football you can be severely injured, possibly permanently. So when will we hold individuals accountable? If you choose to smoke and get lung cancer, that’s on you. If you choose to play football and get hurt, same thing. There’s just no personal accountability anymore. That’s taboo. The ugly truth is, because then you can’t sue big money entities. It’s never the persons fault.

  4. I’m waiting for the facts to come out on Tua’s first injury. There was an independent medical professional on the sideline with protocols.

    I want to know what happened before coming to conclusions.

  5. Let’s be honest, players can just say no if they are injured. They may fear losing there starting role but that’s on them. these owners and many head coaches only care about money and wins, not the players health.

  6. This reminds me of people who smoke cigarettes. I see countless people smoking, regardless of being bombarded with evidence you can possibly get cancer. I think enough evidence is out here that if you choose to play football you can be severely injured, possibly permanently. So when will we hold individuals accountable?

    ———————————–

    I concur. As a smoker, for over five decades, it never ceases to amaze me why someone else wants to love me more than myself! It’s my choice. Period. Go find something useful to whine about.

  7. He’s not meant for this league. His biggest knock was injury prone. Beckham the same way

  8. Even if the investigation shows that Tua did pass the cognitive tests, last Sunday, he still was woozy right after the hit….and that should not have been ignored. Him being woozy should have been considered as evidence of a concussion.

  9. People assume his apparent instability in the bills game was due to concussion, but there’s another perfectly plausible explanation. The HEAT. It was a very hot day heat index at 100. Several players left the game due to heat related illness. Heat can and will cause temporary dizziness, especially if you lay down on the grass and stand up quickly.

  10. This is what happens you pull players from poor communities and dangle multimillion dollar contracts. They’re young reckless and think they’re indestructible. They’ll take the risk now and deal with the consequences later. Better than going back to the hood. Cuz the owners arent going to honor those contracts.

  11. If the Union cared so much about its players they would have never agreed to a football game on Thursday night, four days after playing on Sunday.

  12. All sports should be a mandatory 21 day (or maybe 28 days) limited exercise no contact, then start the protocols to return. Parents will eventually decide, and after seeing Tua on Thursday a good portion will now decide no contact sports ever for their kids. If kids and their friends are not playing football they have zero reasons to watch it.

  13. It is drilled into you as a football player that the best ability is availability. The league needs to do a better job of protecting these guys from themselves.

  14. The most cursory research will show that the conscussion itself isn’t actually the big problem, it’s the rest and recovery time. If enough time is allowed, the brain will heal and long term damage is mitigated. Now, whether or not the NFL, the team owner, the coach and the player will take the time needed, is another story. But you can bet it isn’t the current 1.5 games.

  15. Chris Nowinski literally said, “do not let him play, he can die”. And they let him play.

    Not only that, but flying isn’t very good after concussions, and he was on the team bird back to Miami.

    This is something the team needs to be held accountable for.

  16. “after a football player suffered a head injury, returned to play again four days later, suffered another head injury, collapsed, and died.”

    Basically, exactly what happened on Thursday night, except he didn’t die. This time. Keep messing around with this and the sad situation may become a reality.

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