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Guest Post: Head Games – A Discussion About Priorities

2013 December 17
by Paul D. Anderson Consulting, LLC

By: Ali Rogers

Run faster. Play tougher. Hit harder. We disregard the consequences of over-aggressive behavior in sports and rave about the hardest hit in last weekend’s big game. We set aside the physical, psychological, and cognitive repercussions of blows to the head because admitting something might be wrong shows weakness. We somehow allow our priorities to fall in the wrong order, sacrificing the well being of athletes while deeming the most aggressive players as the most valuable players. We, in these regards, are the unaware and uninformed. But even as we are becoming more aware and more informed, does knowing lead to prevention? “Head Games” gives us an extensive view into the risks and dangers of sports-related concussions. While awareness may be the only truly effective effort, the authors of the film highlight a significant attempt to spread the message and to make athletes, coaches, and parents ask, is it worth it? Key themes throughout “Head Games” are the state of denial of the risk factors in which some people remain, the emotional and physical toll concussions take on athletes, and the willingness to sacrifice the well being of one’s self in the name of optimum athletic performance.

From young athletes who don’t want to know the effects of concussions on the brain to parents who don’t care to hear an activist’s warning, “Head Games” reveals an over-arching sense of denial existing in the sports world. A number of youth, parents, and coaches would rather turn a blind eye to the reality of concussions rather than take action in preventing damage to the brain. Even with more than sufficient amounts of research, they somehow justify allowing such aggressive behavior by simply pretending that severe brain damage caused by concussions does not exist. The question this pattern poses is, why? The instinct theory explains that violence is innate, a characteristic inborn and permanent. Thus, aggressive behavior in sports is considered normal and expected. This justification makes it easy for adults to allow even the youngest of athletes to give it all they’ve got and to never admit there just might be something wrong. Athletes, coaches, and parents deny the severity of concussions to intensify the athletic performance. The more aggressiveness and intensity demonstrated in a game, the more valuable the player is viewed. Denial of the reality will remain in existence until the sports world accepts the reality.

A chronic brain disease is driving an alarming number of players to madness…literally. It seems that playing sports, from little league ball to the pros, gives an individual a certain edge. Being an athlete brings on a certain “cool factor” and often makes others believe he or she has it all together. In reality, some of the all-time greats battle demons deep within themselves – demons caused by emotional disturbance from damage to the brain. Some concussions have brought premature ends to athletic careers; some have even led to suicide. “Head Games” highlights stories of individuals who have experienced sports-related brain damage and one tragic story of the considerable harm concussions can cause. Not only does a lifetime of hits and tackles cause physical suffering, but psychological and cognitive consequences as well. What happens inside the brain may be more devastating than any visible injury.

The juxtaposition of preventing concussions while spotlighting the best hits from the big game puts the sports realm in an awkward state. Mass media have the potential of being the greatest tool in prevention and awareness. All the while, they have more power in their hands than anyone to draw attention to the most spectacular hits. After all, the biggest, baddest hits are what bring in the viewers. As athletes strive to make a name for themselves, they allow this socially learned idea that violence is normal to take hold of their personal goals on the field, court, rink, or in the ring. Most players are indeed aware of the risks, but they unfortunately are willing to overlook the dangers. The players decide to put recognition before good health, all in the sake of proving themselves. No great athlete ever accepts defeat. No great athlete ever shows weakness. No great athlete ever admits that it’s too much to handle. Right?

A helmet may be the only tangible object keeping an opposing player from his or her target. It’s the responsibility of the athlete, coaches, and parents, though, to accept the reality and play with awareness. An athlete must keep his or her priorities in line, even if it means admitting the need for a break. The severity of a brain injury may remain unknown until it’s too late. Steve James, Bruce Sheridan, Christopher Nowinski, and a number of others bring on a new appreciation for life in their film. As the film sheds light on the reality of concussions, the message hopefully reaches athletes, coaches, parents, fans, and media, showing how we each have a role to play in prevention and awareness. The idea that “ignorance is not bliss” is the foundation of Steve James’ lesson in the film (James, 2012). When we live in a culture of toughness in America, admitting that there might be a serious problem is not always a seemingly simple task. Once athletes put it in their heads that their health is more important than any ball game, any play, or any hit, they can finally grasp what is worth valuing and what shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Ali Rogers is a senior communication studies major at Clemson University. This is her fourth year as an intern for the Clemson Football program where she is now in media production, hosting Death Valley Live and the All In Highlight Reel. Ali served as Miss South Carolina 2012 and was first runner-up to Miss America 2013. She traveled over 60,000 miles speaking across the state of South Carolina and used her sports background to promote healthy and active living. She is a full scholarship recipient and will complete her studies at Clemson University in August of 2014.

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