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Concussions In Football

The National Football League continues to gain criticism from fans around the country about rule changes making football less punishable. Personal Foul penalties can be called by an official if they feel a defender made head to head contact on a player. Nicknames like the No Fun League have circulated between football fans over the last few years as the penalties and fines for head to head contact continue to increase. The NFL is trying to limit concussions in the game of football as many ex players are seeing devastating consequences from hits they took years and years ago.

Concussions aren’t just an issue with the professional level of contact sports like the National Football League. Concussions are also becoming more noticeable in the collegiate level and in high schools. The NFL may be leading the campaign to keeping players safe but others are following suit. Bruce Fischbach is the head athletic trainer for the University of South Dakota. He says the real problem is how the game of football has changed over the years.

"Footballs changed, you know it use to be defensively you would tackle an individual. You would wrap them up and you would take them to the ground. Now instead of wrapping them up the defenders are essentially launching their body at the offensive player, so they’re leading with their head," Fischbach says.

Fischbach says a lot of defensive players aren’t taught the same fundamentals in their early football careers that they were years ago. He says he the risk of concussions is to great and more rules limiting illegal tackling need to be made. Fischbach says there are certain things to look for when trying to determine if a player may have a concussion.

"Someone with a concussion, typically they might stay down a little bit longer. You know they don’t hop up quite as quick, when they do get up they might be a little bit wobbly. Usually we’re looking at them from our sideline or whatever so you’ve got a little bit of a distance. We’re always getting some information from teammates, that’ll help us out a little bit; hey you need to go check so and so. But yeah you look for them to be unstable on their feet and hopefully everybody's gotten up," Fischbach says.

Fischbach says if a player is diagnosed with a concussion during a game it's 100 percent certain that player wont return to action on that day. He says an impact test may be given to determine when a player is healthy enough to return.

"The game needs to change, because if we don't change the game, the game might get eliminated," USD Athletic Trainer Bruce Fischbach says.

"It’s a computerized test that works with memory and visualization and gives us a score that tells us how their brain activity is working. You do a base line when everyone is healthy, they’ve got a score and then we can compare how well they did from their base line to their post injury test and you get feedback," Fischbach says.

Fischbach sides with the initiatives taken by the National Football League in changing the game. He says the future of the league and the game of football are on the line so rules need be strictly enforced when dealing with concussions.

"The game needs to change, because if we don’t change the game, the game might get eliminated. We can’t keep having people get hurt. We can’t have all these head injuries that lead to all the problems later in life that the NFL with their studies are showing," Fischbach

The high school level of sports is also experiencing more concussions being diagnosed. Shanna Kindt is an athletic trainer at Sanford Sports Medicine in Sioux Falls who specializes in concussions. She says many of the symptoms of a concussion are dizziness and nausea. Kindt says there are some other symptoms she’s seen over the years as well.

"And then there’s some cognitive symptoms that can go along and do go along with a lot of concussions. Things like feeling foggy, having problems concentrating, focusing, problems with memory, those type of things," Kindt says.

Kindt says most of her patients are high school student athletes. She says one of her biggest concerns is seeing a student’s academics struggle because of a head injury.

"We see a lot of people that can go right back into school and have no issues but we also see on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of people that do have issues with academics. Whether it be for a week after their concussion, months after their concussion. We’ve had kids in our clinic that even miss basically quote on quote miss  full years of school because of their ongoing symptoms," Kindt says.

Concussion results can vary from mild to extreme. Kindt says she’s seen concussions where a person has a headache for a few days but then on the other extreme she’s heard of people dying due to the severity. She says the worst-case scenario of possible death needs to be eliminated and sometimes being overprotective is the safest route.

"If I can say one thing with a concussion, you’ve probably heard it a million times but if in doubt, set them out. I’d rather be a little more conservative, get someone checked out and have it be nothing and get them back on the field or the court. Then have it be something where they don't get it checked out and then we’re looking at worse case scenario," Kindt says.

Both Shanna Kindt and USD Athletic Trainer Bruce Fischbach support the attempts by the National Football League to make football as safe as possible. Both say they plan to continue making sure concussed athletes are diagnosed and heeled properly before they return to action.

Be sure to tune in Tuesday night at 8 PM Central for the Frontline special report on SDPB TV.

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.