During the “Sport and the University” themed semester, I went to two events: a lecture by Dr. Jeff Kutcher on concussions in sports and the showing of Miracle, a film about the United States hockey team that beat the heavily favored Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
Dr. Kutcher is the director of the UM NeuroSport Program. He is an expert on concussions. He has worked for Michigan Athletics and Team USA in the Sochi Winter Olympics. As someone who has was concussed three times in high school athletics, I thought it would be very interesting to hear from a leading concussion expert.
In Dr. Kutcher’s lecture, he explained the various causes and symptoms of concussions. He also discussed the controversy of head injuries in professional sports, especially the NFL. Many football players and athletes in other contact sports experience repetitive head trauma. When players stop playing, many still experience concussion like symptoms or extreme depression. Many doctors think that this is Chronic Trauma Encephalopathy, or CTE.
Many believe that because of the violent nature of football, significant numbers of retired football players suffer from CTE. Many retired players have extreme depression, aggression, thoughts of suicide, and concussion like symptoms. Recently, many former NFL players who believe that they have CTE or other kinds brain damage have filed concussion lawsuits against the NFL, demanding money due to the league’s lack of attention to player safety and protection. Some retired players have committed suicide, and many assume that CTE has caused the deaths.
However, Kutcher believes that most of these players may not have any sort of brain damage. He says that the symptoms in both concussions and CTE are very similar to normal depression. He has noticed that many players feel depressed after they retire, and think they have CTE. However, Kutcher has discovered that the majority of the cases, the players are depressed because they are not playing the game they love, not because of head trauma. He believes that only about 4 out of about 140 NFL players he has examined actually have brain damage or CTE.
Kutcher even says that a lot of the diagnosed concussions today are probably not concussions. He says that over the past 10 years, there has been a huge spike in diagnosed concussions. Recently, people have been much more cautious with these head injuries, and are wrongly diagnosed with a concussion.
This lecture made me think about how aware we are about sport injuries. We are so conscious of these injuries that we believe that there are more injuries than there actually are. This reminded me of a scene in Miracle, where Coach Herb Brooks gives a fiery speech to his team. One of his players, Rob McClanahan, suffered a leg injury during the game. The doctor said McClanahan could worsen if he kept playing, so McClanahan took his gear off expecting not to play. Brooks accused McClanahan of quitting because of a “bad bruise.” McClanahan kept playing, despite the doctor’s recommendation.
Clip From Miracle
I think this shows how different coaches and players handle injuries today. In the 1980s, coaches like Brooks pressure players to play with injuries. It was expected to play through the pain. If someone got injured on any of my basketball teams growing up, my coaches would rarely let the player to continue to play. Depending on the injury, a hurt player would need a doctor’s note to be cleared to play. Kutcher pointed out that we often diagnose athletes with serious injuries whey they are not even seriously hurt.
Our increase in sensitivity towards injuries is an example of how many of our attitudes have changed and how we approach most things today. You could look at injuries like it is fortuna, as it is beyond anyone’s control and determines how one acts. One can act more passively, be very careful and not risk worsening the injury. Or you can be more aggressive, and play through it. Machiavelli said “All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
It seems today as if most people take the safer route when it comes to injuries. When there is a head injury, it is safer to just assume that it is a concussion and take more time to make sure one completely recovers. Are people too careful? Have we become too cautious? Should teams take more risks when it comes to injuries? When Coach Brooks encouraged McClanahan to play through the pain in Miracle, McClanahan’s play inspired the team to work harder, and they won a pivotal game in the Olympics. However, if a player has a serious injury, this attitude can be detrimental to the player’s career. Like what Machiavelli said, calculate the risk, and act decisively.