Understanding Concussions: Change Needed Not Only at NFL Level


As everyone else was, I was shocked and saddened by the news of Junior Seau’s death last week.  At first I thought of his family and how they would be affected, and then I hoped everyone wasn’t jumping to conclusions about why he may have done what he apparently did.  It is now starting to look like this might be exactly what everyone feared it could be, concussion and football related.

I am a high school football official in California, and I officiate mainly high school games, but also do what we call Junior All-American youth football.  Being an Umpire, or Head Referee at times, puts me in the middle of the field with the players.  I enjoy my work very much.  However, last year the association that runs California High School Football, and therefore influences all levels, saw it fit to put the issue of whether a player has had a concussion in our hands.  The Game Officials are now responsible for determining if a player can continue in the game if he has suffered a hit to the head.  With our decision comes further action.  The player must sit out games,drills, and any form of participation until he is seen by an independent doctor.  In California three days of practice a week are required to participate in that weeks game.  Most players will miss the following game as a result.

In order to be “Qualified” to make such an assessment all officials were required to take an on-line test.  The test consists of answering 5 questions, then being told the reason for the proper answers, then taking the test again.  It takes about 15 minutes.  With this wealth of information it is now part of my job to determine the health of your child.  Really?  As the saying goes, “If I knew being a doctor was this easy, I would have done it years ago.”

It seems coaches don’t always have players health and safety as their first concern.  Team trainers are rarely available, or again, have split loyalties or are in training.  Independent physicians, with fantastic malpractice insurance, are rare.  We do get lucky occasionally to get volunteers from the Marine base to come down and watch over the kids, but this too is rare.  Maybe the schools, associations, and school boards should consider spending a little more time, and yes money, on this issue.  This problem does not start at the NFL level, it just gets the most attention there.