Editor's Note: With growing national attention focusing on concussions in younger athletes, Wheeling resident William Welker, author of the popular "Mat Talk" column that appeared for many years in the Sunday News-Register, has written a two-part series on concussions in athletics. This is the first part of that series.
On Oct. 19, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, held a hearing on concussions and the marketing of sports equipment. His mission was to increase awareness of both the dangers of concussions for athletes participating in sports at all levels, and what he believed to be the misleading marketing claims about concussions made by some sports equipment manufacturers.
Rockefeller convened the hearing because much of past discussions on concussions had largely focused on the dangers of concussions at the professional level. The truth is a significant percentage of those suffering concussions are children and high school students participating in sports, especially contact sports such as soccer, football, basketball, wrestling, and hockey.
More recently in Shepherdstown, W.Va., Rockefeller chaired a roundtable discussion with medical experts, sports professionals, coaches and parents during Youth Sports Safety Month to help raise awareness of many of the causes and impacts of concussions and head injuries in young athletes.
"We all have a responsibility to make sure that kids who play sports are as safe as they can be," said Rockefeller. "Many past conversations about concussions have focused exclusively on professional athletes, but we must also be fully aware that concussions affect so many of our children on the field, court, mat, or track.
"This is the beginning of a ... coordination of efforts on a very serious subject. We must determine the best way to educate parents and children on the dangers of concussions, how to properly identify a concussion on site, how to tell when a child is ready to play post-concussion, and how to fund getting the appropriate health-care professionals in place at West Virginia schools sporting events."
Rockefeller identified football and woman's soccer as the two sports most vulnerable to concussions. In fact, his son had three concussions as a young football player.
"He wanted to be a doctor, so he went to see a doctor about his concussions," Rockefeller said of his son. "The doctor said, 'You've had three concussions? Well, let's put it this way: If you have four, don't ever bother coming back to me.'"
That night, Rockefeller's son cleaned out his locker and never played football again.
Rockefeller also questions the integrity of companies who proclaim they have made concussion-proof equipment, because such claims are marketing falsehoods, he said.
"People get concussions. They wear helmets, and if people think those helmets have anything to do with stopping concussions, they're wrong," Rockefeller said. "There's nothing that can solve the problem of concussions in sports. So when companies tell you that having mouth pieces and/or helmets will eliminate concussions, they're lying."
"You can't buy something that'll prevent you from getting a concussion. And concussions are really serious stuff."
The discussion in Shepherdstown provided an opportunity to discuss the dangers of concussions for young athletes, the steps that parents and coaches should take to protect young athletes from concussions, and the limitations of sports equipment in preventing concussions.
In part two of this series, which publishes on Monday, we explore the symptoms and management of concussions.