The University of Texas football fans got some bad news last week. During a press conference, Coach Strong revealed that quarterback David Ash had made the decision to retire from football. The reason? Multiple concussions.
Ash has repeatedly suffered head injuries. The most recent was during the season opening game against North Texas. But his problems with head injuries began long before that. In fact, concussion kept him out of play for most of last year’s games. According to Coach Strong, Ash had recently consulted with the UT medical staff, and all concurred that retirement from football would be the best option.
This is a smart and also courageous move on the part of David Ash. He came to the realization that his health was more important than the potential for fame and fortune.
As a physician, when I clear a student athlete to resume play, I make it a habit to sit down with the player and the parents to discuss the risk of future concussions. Part of what I talk about with them includes the concept that chronic injuries can derail future plans. It doesn’t matter what kind of scholarship a university is offering or which professional team is offering a contract. Neither can be accepted with a “broken brain”.
Have you ever known or seen a former professional athlete who hobbles around because of chronic knee, hip or back injury? Well, you can’t see concussions. But as we’re all now learning, there is an increasing number of professional athletes who leave football and go on to experience disastrous consequences: Early onset dementia, depression, memory loss, debilitating headaches and more.
It may surprise you to learn that the average length of an NFL player’s career is less than five years. So look at it this way: If you complete four years in college, graduate at the age of 22, and go on to play professional football, that means your career will likely end by the age of 27. And then you may go on to live with the consequences of your injuries for the next 50 years. That doesn’t sound so great when you look at the big picture.
That picture played into the decision of David Ash to end his football career now. He was smart enough to recognize what clinicians recognize. Concussion is a serious brain injury.
All parents should know that while concussion is one of the most common sports related injuries, it is a serious brain injury and it requires definitive diagnosis, management and treatment. When recognized and treated properly, it doesn’t have to be a long term, debilitating injury.
I am not advocating that we do away with football or soccer or lacrosse. But I am advocating that we, as parents and health care providers, take advantage of some of the major advances in sports medicine. And that includes taking head injuries seriously and determining the best course of action for each individual in both the short term and the long term.
David Ash may have put down his helmet. But he just picked up years of health and well-being, and the potential to be a star in whatever career and lifestyle he chooses for his future.