The fight against concussions in sports is a challenging battle for all sides involved, one marred by a confusing message coming from the fans, general public and within sport culture.
Doctors and team trainers face daily challenges of helping athletes recover from concussions, while fans beg and hope for players to return to play, often times before they are ready.
League officials and scientists are constantly pushed to keep players safer in an attempt to prevent concussions from ever occurring. At the same time, fans at home can’t get enough highlights of devastating hits.
Add this on top of the culture of toughness, perpetuated by the very idea of sport, and we have created a dangerous situation.
The simple fact: a concussion is not the same type of injury as tearing an ACL or breaking a bone. A concussion is an undeniably traumatic injury to the most sensitive part of your body, the brain.
Steve McPherson of ESPN put it perfectly in a recent column that said, “In a culture that demands toughness and rewards playing with pain or walking it off, it’s difficult to change the perception that a head injury is just another obstacle to be overcome with determination.”
This culture within sport is not something likely to change soon, if at all.
The best way to fight back against the problem at this level is to educate athletes and help them understand a concussion is not an injury to play through.
Coaches and administrators need to find a way to reward players who properly handle a potential concussion instance, or at the very least, ensure they are not in any way punishing the athlete for taking the right steps towards full recovery.
But while this problem is addressed from within the sport community, it is our jobs as fans of the athletes to tackle this growing problem in any way we can.
Personally, I have found that my view of sports, especially football, changed over the past few years.
Before my viewpoint changed, my reaction to huge hits toward a player was typically shock, followed by laughter. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, however, I know I was not the only one reacting that way. Some still do.
Now, my first reaction tends to be concern. I understand how devastating something like a concussion can be for a player’s career and their future outside the game.
We should be treating these events as players risking their health, and sometimes lives, for our entertainment, rather than as something purely for our entertainment.
Weekly programs used to air top-10 lists of highlights showing brutal hits from the past seven days of action. Thankfully, those are mostly gone now.
As fans, we cannot support poor form in any sport that could end in a concussed athlete.
This is especially true in football, where big hits above the shoulders draw huge cheers from fans in the stadium and at home.
These hits should induce cringes. Our reaction should be respectful silence.
While many would argue that the NFL rules regarding targeting go too far, I would argue they are not called with any sort of consistency.
The league is doing what it can to best prevent their players from being seriously injured, so the referees now need to do their job correctly.
And so do we.
So yes, the culture within sports could use a makeover. But let us control what we can control.
Do your best to encourage safe play, so we can keep enjoying the competitions we love so much.