Tate: It's on the brain

Tate: It's on the brain

It's better, but concussions are real problem in football

— Baseball pitchers routinely undergo Tommy John arm surgery and often return stronger than ever.

— Hockey players undergo more than their share of ACL surgeries (in the U.S. alone, up to 75,000 people annually endure this knee repair) but nearly 100 percent get back on the ice.

— Football players inevitably receive head blows that can lead to brain trauma and concussions. It is a different recovery process. Some wind up with degenerative brain disease, a fact emphasized by more than 3,000 plaintiffs bringing a class-action lawsuit against the NFL.

Don't misunderstand. Football is too deeply ingrained in the U.S. to go the way of boxing. Concussions or not, the athletes are as addicted as the fans.

You may have read George Will, or seen him with George Stephanopoulos or on "Mike and Mike in the Morning," reciting the numbers ... how today's 300-pounders, already challenging life expectancy with their bulk, have become so strong and fast that the body can't withstand collisions involving this level of kinetic energy.

Referring to the NFL, Will called football "a three-hour adrenaline and testosterone bath. For all its occasional elegance and beauty, it is basically violence for, among other purposes, inflicting intimidating pain."

That's true and it will continue. Nothing is going to derail either the fans' pleasure or the athletes' daring determination. Football is here to stay.

But changes are in the offing. More parents will steer their sons away from Pop Warner tryouts. Turnout at the high school level will inevitably diminish the collegiate feeder system. We'll see a change in the makeup of squads.

That's my long-range projection. But it's not happening right now. You shouldn't be misled by Hoopeston taking a year off from varsity play, or the meager turnout (in the 20s) at Schlarman. These schools have other problems.

The traditional winners at Unity, St. Joseph-Ogden and Tuscola roll right along. Champaign Central welcomed more than 120 prospects in four classes. Centennial's 16-year coach, Mike McDonnell, reported 111, calling this normal, and emphasizing that he'll continue to implement extreme safety measures.

"It is costly but we pay to have a certified trainer from Carle at not only our games but at practices where contact is involved," McDonnell said. "We take no chances. Every player is tested."

What's up, doc?

The medical profession is becoming an ever-increasing voice in this business.

John Storsved, assistant professor at Eastern Illinois, reminds that "school boards are obligated to make parents aware of the dangers." If an athlete is thought to sustain a concussion, "he must be evaluated by a medical doctor or a certified athletic trainer."

Said Storsved: "My son is a freshman at Central. I am one of the parents obliged to read the concussion policy. All high school athletes receive a concussion baseline test similar to what we see at the university."

Storsved reported that UI professor Steve Broglio made a four-year study at Unity by tracking physical contact via an impact telemetry system featuring six small censors inside 35 helmets. A wireless system brought the signal to his laptop. One revelation was that athletes took more frequent hits in practice than in the games.

"Helmets are no guarantees of safety," Storsved said, "and particularly if they are not well fitted. That's one of the concerns at the lower levels."

Learning curve

In Rantoul, UI coach Tim Beckman is aware, saying: "Safety is more important than ever in football. We try to teach the proper techniques of blocking and tackling, and we ask the players, if they feel something is happening, tell us."

New UI trainer Scott Brooks arrived from Miami (Fla.) to handle this demanding role.

"Education is the single most important preventive factor, and the doctor's exam is crucial," said Brooks, who heads a quartet of UI football trainers. Their job is to be on the lookout for signs of a concussion.

"Everyone is becoming proactive," Brooks said. "The new coaching staff went through informative meetings with the athletic training staff in the spring. The players signed acknowledgment forms before camp.

"We do an ImPACT neurocognitive test that runs between 20 and 35 minutes, depending on the individual, as part of the initial physical exam. That determines memory and reactive time and, if a player has a problem on the field, we can test against that baseline.

"We also use the Bess test (it tests static postural stability) in which players stand with eyes open or closed, and we count the sways forward and backward on a single leg. We can judge balance with this test, and it serves as another baseline.

"Quite simply, if we see signs or symptoms, or we suspect anything, we hold them out. Then it's up to the team doctors."

Training ground

Al Martindale was trainer for UI football for 20 years before moving to basketball in 2002.

Given the choice today, he'd probably play football again, but he would advise his son not to.

"That came up 10 years ago," he said. "Knowing what I know now, I would not favor him playing. It's not only football. Look at soccer. Over time, he had two or three concussions. This goes back to collisions and also heading the ball. At a young age, their brain is not fully developed in their skull, so there's more space to rattle around. Personally, I think the problem is at the younger levels. The equipment and the helmets may not be perfect at the pee-wee or junior high level. And I recall, back in the '70s, parents telling their kids to 'get back in there' even though they were dizzy. By the time they reach the college level, they may already have had five or six concussions, and each one can make it worse, particularly if he keeps playing. And too often, like Junior Seau, they don't want to tell.

"In these August practices, it is sometimes hard to understand what's happening. It's 90 to 100 degrees on the field, and the players may be dehydrated and become light-headed or get a headache. Maybe it's just from wearing a helmet that they're not used to.

"I dealt with this problem with some of our coaches. It was like, 'You don't know. You're not a doctor.' And my thought was, 'Are you a doctor?'

"All reasonable precautions are being taken. The players sign consent forms. They're educated not to lead with their head. ... In the profession, there are many groups studying brain injuries. It will be interesting to see where it goes."

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports

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Moonpie wrote on August 14, 2012 at 10:08 am

Yet another "So what?" column from Obi Wan Tate. And Dr. Tate has magically and abruptly proclaimed thast the consussion issue in football has somehow and magically improved! Like Mr. White on Breaking Bad, "It's so because I say so!"

azfan wrote on August 14, 2012 at 11:08 am

Cowpie get a life. You have got to be an Iowa fan here just to make us as miserable as you.

TheChiefLives wrote on August 14, 2012 at 12:08 pm

The concussion issue IS now better.  The approach to concussions on the field is better.  They are sidelined if one is expected.  They are checked out by medical professionals, and they are sidelined for longer if a concussion has, in fact, occured.  This did not happen in the past.

Moonpie....can you seriously let your hatred towards Tate convince you that concussion awareness has not VASTLY improved in just the last ten years???  Just because you can't let yourself agree with Tate???

It is the long term effects of concussions that I debate.  All of the the former NFL players that offed themselves in the last couple of years had a whole slew of other problems.  Unrealistic expectations, depression due to lack of direction post-pro ball, and self-inflicted poverty are the most common. 

Lets look at the other side of the coin.  If concussions caused suicides and psychological disorders in these players, wouldn't Troy Aikman and Steve Young be dead, psychotic, or in prison???

The majority have no issues.

OKOMIS wrote on August 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Week argument…. If drinking alcohol made you an alcoholic, wouldn’t everyone who drinks become one.. same strange logic. Some people use drugs recreationally with no problem, others become addicts… my mom smoked when she was pregnant with me in the late 50’s and I did OK… my dad smoked for 60 years and did fine.. does that mean smoking is OK??

TheChiefLives wrote on August 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm


No one has proved that the concussions have anything to do with the suicides.  Four broke, jobless, decrepit ex-football players and one second year sub-par talent with no chance of ever being in a starting line-up commit suicide, and the media tries to blame it on concussions.

Cool story...hook, line, and sinker.

Now prove it.  I've known hundreds of people with concussions, and I don't recall any of them committing suicide.

The two are not related.  Its just media spin. 

OKOMIS wrote on August 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm

OK, and global warming, oh excuse me, climate change, isn’t real either…just because a few Midwest hick states are burning up..


TheChiefLives wrote on August 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Ok, I'll bite.

Nope.  I don't believe that one either.  PROOF has surfaced that the ENTIRE EARTH was actually hotter than now during roman times and almost all the way up until the dark ages when the "mini ice age" happened.

So what do these opinions matter?  My initial point was that the concussions are being dealt with more seriously now than they were when I was younger and playing football.  

But to rebutt your point...the FACT is that there is no evidence that SUICIDES are linked to CONCUSSIONS in NFL Players.  In my OPINION the common thread seems to be money followed by the lack thereof and depression.

See the difference there.  FACT vs. OPINION.

And RESEACRCH does not make things true.  Doctors are RESERCHING the effects of concussions on NFL players.  That does not mean they are linked.  There are still people RESEARCHING whether aliens landed at Roswell.  There are people RESERCHING the apocalyptic meaning behind the abrupt ending of the Mayan Calender.  RESEARCH IS THEORY,,,NOT FACT!!!

I'll keep on drivin' my big Dodge truck and warmin' yer planet fer ya tho.


hoyt wrote on August 14, 2012 at 11:08 pm

People need to understand that concussions aren't the issue. Athletes who have never been diagnosed as concussed are nevertheless suffering the effects of tau proteins on their brains. Why? Because of the countless subconcussive hits they've absorbed over the course of their careers.

In fact, those who are diagnosed with concussions are better off than those who aren't. Why? Because they get to skip practices and/or games, thus avoiding several dozen more blows to their heads.

It doesn't do anybody any good for this kind of column to appear at this point in time. It's about five years too late, and it misses the point, anyway.



DaisyJ wrote on August 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Just saw where the UCLA starting 2 year linebacker quit after getting his second or third concussion of his career. Just a matter of time before science can prove for sure all the smaller constant banging of helmets is enough to cause major brain problems for people. Is it worth the loss of congnitive brain function to see someone score a touchdown. I think we all know it is not. Wake up, lets have some maturity and have our kids look away from football.

Go ahead, call me an alarmest, call me weak, call me having the ability to still type on a computer however and able to still recognize people I know. Time to wake up. All  you tough guys turn to fluff when your brain no longer works.

TheChiefLives wrote on August 16, 2012 at 7:08 am

That was that player's CHOICE.  Just like it is your CHOICE to not allow your kids to play football.  Do you have any idea how many players play high school and college ball without EVER experiencing a concussion?  How many live 80-90 years with no problems at all?  How many NFL players do the same thing? 


Answer:  The majority.


If I was playing and experienced 3 or 4 concussions, you'd better believe I'd quit too.  But I'm not in favor of banning an American pastime because there is a little risk involved.  Wow.

DaisyJ wrote on August 16, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Well well well,, choice. um...lets see, your not quite correct..The parent is making the choice not the child. And what a choice it is. The choice to be able to have the pleasure of watching your son trade his health for what, your entertainment, bragging rights, a few headlines. Ha ha, you as a parent are supposed to use your brain and make intelligent decisions. Sorry, and I am glad you are not my father.

TheChiefLives wrote on August 17, 2012 at 8:08 am

Okay, you hate football.  I get it.  You are probably a proponent of the participation medals too.  My kids love having me as their father because I support their decisions.  If my boys want to play football then they are going to play football.  If they don't then they wont.  The health concerns are left up to responsible adults.  If I ever feel the need to pull my kids out of any sport for medical concerns, I will. 

Ask anyone who played football in High School and they will tell you it was one of their best memories.  Next ask them if they are all F'd in the head because of it.

You have no argument.  You have no clue.  Get a life and stop trying to deprive kids of theirs.

I am glad you aren't my father/mother/whatever you are.

DaisyJ wrote on August 17, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I do not hate football, love to watch it. I just hate to see the brain get used like it is.


As for you being a father, you are supposed to be an adult and not love a sport so much

that you would allow your children to be injured or have their brain injured. You are in

denial because you love the game.

As for those years being your best, no doubt, they were. Now when the brain starts to slip

you may not down the road remember those years.

. Your like a kid on this subject. All of you, wake up. If smart doctors come out and prove what

they are 99% now sure of, will you then stop your kids from playing. Or will you buck up and

becasue you love football just tell them to go ahead.

TheChiefLives wrote on August 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm

I let my kids play in the mud, too.  Bad daddy!


Don't let them play baseball because they could get hit by a pitch.

Don't let them swim...they could get exhausted and drown.

Martial arts and boxing....no way!  Pain is involved.  And look at Ali.

Don't dare let them think about racing bikes or cars....OH....MY...GOD!!!!!!!!!!!

Gymnastics could tweak their back and they'll be a cripple later in life.

Running causes shin splints.

Basketball causes athletes foot.

Bowling makes you fat.

Golf makes you drink.




DaisyJ wrote on August 17, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Starting to get too you I see. It is your conscience that is telling you one thing and your

desire another. So why do they all of a sudden start to demonize football and tell you it

can cause brain problems. The reason is it can. Do you think people just sit around without

some evidence or case histories and make this stuff up. I am glad they did not use you as a

source. Lets see, because Mr. Chief Lives likes football and does not care, then forget the

brain findings, go ahead and hit em hard boys. ha ha pretty good one there.

hoyt wrote on August 20, 2012 at 12:08 pm


I don't see DaisyJ arguing for the banishment of football, but rather for parents to simply use available information to make educated decisions -- when necessary -- for their children. Wouldn't you agree that children aren't always equipped to make decisions for themselves? 

Also -- with the exception of boxing, the sports mentioned in your facetious list that appears later in the thread are not relevant to this discussion. Tau proteins cause irreversible brain damage, and they are a direct result of repeated blows to the head. We're not talking about shin splints and back problems.

And, once again -- tau proteins can appear WITHOUT CONCUSSIONS.


TheChiefLives wrote on August 17, 2012 at 9:08 pm

I love football, as do most men.  Many of us played, and practically none of us have issues.  Such a ridiculously small percentage...diminimous.

The fact is, you are calling for putting an end to football, not making it safer.  In that respect we are just going to have to smile politely and disagree. 

DaisyJ wrote on August 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I realize you love football as most men. That is what clouds your thinking. The fact that not everyone

has problems, well, 100% of everyone that had too many hits actually is having a problems and that

is the reason to not ignore that fact.  If you cannot make it safer, then why are you ok with going and playing more football the same way. You would feel different if you were one of those affected by the very story Tate wrote about.