A life lesson from a professional football player who knows first hand there's more to life than playing football.As you know, I have written many times and done numerous radio segments on the topic of concussions. In the past several years there has been more attention paid to the risks of long term brain injury secondary to concussions and the medical literature continues to update guidelines for screening and treatment of concussions.
Many professional sports organizations like the NFL, as well as college and undergraduate athletic organizations have also become aware of the risks of recurrent concussions and are adhering to guidelines to prevent players from returning to play without medical clearance. As a UT Longhorn fan/alumni, it was with concern and admiration that I read the story of Tre Newton’s decision to retire from the UT team due to his history of repetitive concussions. The media reports out of Austin stated that, “Tre along with his parents and physicians” had decided that it was time to give up football to prevent further head injuries. What a difficult and heartfelt decision that must have been!!! His father, Nate Newton, had played for the Dallas Cowboys and Tre was a starting running back for UT. It is obvious that this is a “football family”. But, having watched as Tre suffered another concussion during a recent UT loss, and then reading the stories about his past history of concussions in the previous football season as well as during his high school days, it seems as if this young man took a good long look at the newest data on recurrent concussions and long term complications and knew it was time to end his football career. He is obviously not only an athlete, but also a scholar. I think that Tre Newton will be a role model to other talented young athletes who too may have had the unfortunate luck to have suffered concussions. Sustaining a concussion whether in football, hockey, cheerleading, or any other sport is a risk that comes with contact sports. Some athletes seemed to be luckier than others. Despite the best efforts at developing new helmets, and mouth guards, the incidence of concussions is on the rise. Children, teen and young adult athletes continue to report symptoms seen with a concussion, and we pediatricians are seeing this in our own offices. I recently saw an 8 year old whose mother brought him in to be examined as she thought he might have a concussion. As you know, a concussion is not a structural injury, but rather a chemical and functional injury to the brain. It is somewhat analogous to a “bruise or sprain”, but involves the brain rather than a bone. Therefore the x-ray or scan of the head and brain will appear normal, but the neurological exam or the cognitive exam will be abnormal. This little boy did not remember the hit or being brought to the sideline, he was nauseated for a bit afterward. But…after my exam my recommendations, his mother did not want to “bench him” for the next week as he had a playoff football game and lacrosse try-outs. My question is “WHY”? Why would you worry that your child might have a concussion, take him to the doctor, and then not follow the established guidelines for return to play. This just doesn’t make sense to me. She also pointed out that her husband was the coach and had not heard of any information regarding concussions and rest, with gradual return to play. Hmmm. But, Tre Newton’s decision to retire from football makes a tremendous amount of sense. It also shows a great deal of maturity and intelligence. Tough decision, supported by loving parents who also knew “what was best for their son”. I commend each of them and wish Tre good luck in whatever field he “plays” on post graduation. That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!