High school football players often play hurt, just like the pros. But head injuries considered minor on the field can be serious. A team of researchers including neurologists and head injury specialists have developed guidelines, published Wednesday in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, that would put safety first.
The California Interscholastic Federation, which regulates prep sports, should adopt the recommendations, which would teach coaches how to identify concussions, gauge the severity and provide the best immediate care on the sidelines or send the player to an emergency room. Coaches would use simple memory and exercise tests developed by the neurology academy to assess injuries. Kaiser Permanente, which emphasizes preventive medicine, has pledged to provide laminated cards containing the information to coaches and trainers as well.
The CIF currently has no policy on when to remove a player from a game, although school districts can adopt their own rules. Many macho players need to be convinced that they cannot return to the game after they have had their "bell rung." They may say they are fine when, in fact, they are not. The sideline tests will help, as will warnings from former New York Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who still suffers from the cumulative impact of multiple concussions.
The concussion guidelines are noteworthy in Southern California because two prep players died during the last football season. Eric Hoggatt, 18, a Reseda High running back, died in his sleep Sept. 13 hours after complaining of dizziness and numbness during a game. Adrian Taufaasau, 17, a quarterback for Coronado High in San Diego County, never regained consciousness after he was tackled during a game against Costa Mesa High two days earlier. Autopsies did not directly link either player's death to game injuries, but many parents were justifiably alarmed.
Head injury standards are widely endorsed by medical and sports associations, and should be adopted nationally to protect the health of teen athletes.