Over the most recent NFL season, there have been an increasing number of concerns about concussions. Specifically, the NFL’s lack of a proper concussion protocol, and failure to properly protect their players. Early this season, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made headlines after players tackled him in multiple games in ways that both experts and fans believed the team should have been penalized for, but they weren’t. During the Panthers’ week 12 game against the Oakland Raiders, one of the players was finally called for “roughing the passer,” meaning that the player tackled Newton after the ball was released from his hands. This call was the first “roughing the passer” since 2014. The call was made, but not Newton missed three weeks earlier in the season due to a concussion from similar hits.
With so much news concerning concussions in professional football, footballs fans were left curious about concussion policies at the local level. As a high school, is Carrboro experiencing the same problems? How does CHS policy compare, and how effective is it at protecting players?
According to CHS Athletic Trainer Matt Dorn, North Carolina must conduct its concussion protocol in accordance with the Gfeller-Waller Law passed four years ago. “If anyone is suspected of having a concussion, whether it occurs during an athletic event, on campus or outside of school, then by law, there are certain requirements they have to do before they are allowed to participate in activities,” said Dorn..
These “requirements” begin with lots of paperwork, including a doctor-determined revised schedule for schools, based on what activities the athlete is allowed to do. This could include anything from allowing athletes returning from a concussion to enter school with only half days restricting computer time or giving the student extra time for assignments. Furthermore, students are often required to sit out from any physical education classes, and even on some occasions, band or chorus classes due to the risk of migraines in a course producing too much noise.
After receiving a date to return, athletes are not allowed to return to the field right away due to a five-day “return-to-play protocol” that all students must complete before returning to their sport.
“We’re just trying to do a little exercising and see if any of your symptoms come back,” said Dorn. Day one is walking for thirty minutes. Day two consists of twenty-five minutes of jogging, and some light weightlifting. Day three is running for twenty minutes and then heavier weights. Day four is a non-contact practice, and day five is when athletes can participate in a full practice. Additionally, the school contacts the doctor after day four, and an athlete’s parents after day five to make sure there are no problems. If any problems do arise throughout the week, it’s back to day three after another twenty-four hour waiting period.
Speaking on the difference between the NFL and high school football, “There’s not a huge difference, at least not in this state. The big difference is the resources that are available,” said Dorn. The largest differences come in terms of resources, noting that in college football, there’s a position called a concussion spotter. This position places a medical professional in the press box above the field, where they are able to observe players from a different point of view, and advise coaches and medical staff to remove a player from the game, if they believe that the player may have a concussion.
The concussion protocol in high school versus the collegiate and professional levels are also different, and Dorn mentioned two factors that may affect the protocol. The first of which, was the age of the players. At the high school level, students brains are still developing. “An adult can have a concussion and look like they just got off a 24 hour IDK and the next day be fine, whereas a child or adolescent may have a concussion where at worst they feel light headed and dizzy and that’s it, and they feel the same way two and a half weeks later,” said Dorn. In this way, it makes sense that the NFL doesn’t have the same five day return to play policy as high schools do, they only have to be cleared by the team doctor.
The second thing that comes into play at the collegiate and NFL levels is money. At those levels, a loss of a game can mean losing the team millions of dollars, not just a loss in terms of the season record. “At the high school level, our number one priority is our players safety,” said Dorn. “I don’t care if we win as long as the kids are safe.” In contrast, he says “especially at the D1 collegiate level and the professional level, the amount of money that runs through those organizations really changes things.” Indicating that safety is not the only concern, and may not be the first.