BGSU student Matthew Lamos played football from the age of 5 to 18. He has had three major concussions and too many minor concussions to count. It still affects him today.
Lamos, a middle childhood education major with a specialty in math and science, went to Riverside High School in a suburb east of Cleveland. He played on the offensive and defensive lines in high school and loved to play football. Concussions were just something that came with the sport.
“I was pretty good at keeping it together, playing for so long. If I have a headache you just play through it, you fight through it. So if it wasn’t serious, I kept it together,” Lamos said.
For him the concussions started early, and they always continued throughout his playing career.
“My first concussion was in peewee football. I was playing defense and I came screeching across the back, me and the running back came screeching on to each other and we clashed helmets. I got up, he didn’t, so we both kinda got messed up. They had to carry him off, so I think we both got concussions. I was wobbling off and my coaches saw me and they gave me a little bit of an evaluation and they said you’re done,” he said.
That concussion was the first of three major concussions that he would encounter when playing football. But even after every major concussion, or minor one for that matter, Lamos was never discouraged to keep playing football.
He wasn’t discouraged by himself, his teammates, coaches, his parents or even his doctors. They never deemed the concussions bad enough for him to stop playing the game he loved. Lamos believes there are a multitude of reasons behind that.
“I think and I don’t know exactly for sure but the protocol in high school is if you get a certain amount of concussions at a certain time, they tell you you can’t play anymore. Because of how spread out mine were, I was okay. They are all in different varying levels and mine were never carted off on a stretcher like they were never that bad,” he said.
For him, in the moment, it wasn’t something that really alarmed him. He wasn’t always able to discern whether or not he had a concussion. It wasn’t until after he stopped playing that he realized the toll the multiple hits had taken on him.
“If you got hit too hard you would get a headache but it would go away after a little bit. You don’t feel the effects of a concussion then, you feel it later. It’s like you’re buying something that you are going to have to pay for later,” Lamos said.
This is a problem that has been ongoing for a while now in football. We have seen plenty of efforts at all levels to reduce the number of concussions, by increasing the knowledge but surrounding head injuries.
But the numbers are still jarring, and according to former EMT turned BGSU public health professor, Bradley Fervier, there is still a problem with the amount of concussions in our youth.
“These traumatic head injuries really do affect our children. For instance in the United States it is estimated that about 3.8 million concussions occur every year. To me that is alarming but really that is kind of small considering that half of those really go unreported. So that in it of itself is a big issue,” Fervier said.
Not only is the problem that these children and young adults are simply acquiring the concussions at an early age, but it’s that these concussions can lead to further problems.
“We do know that when you have been concussed once, it is easier to get another concussion. The more that you get them, those issues can develop into more serious problems later in life,” Fervier said.
The fact that it takes longer for children to recover from concussions than adults makes it even more alarming considering that children are the ones taking the brunt of the hits.
“What we know is that children and teens make up more than half — I would say about three quarters of all of those sports-related concussions. Do we have a problem on our hands? Yes we do, because as you know, concussions lead to other problems so for instance, you can have problems with balance and problems with focusing,” Fervier said.
These problems are already taking effect in Lamos’s life and it’s not just balance and problems with focusing as Fervier suggests. It’s much more severe than that, and he’s only been out of the game for about three years.
“I still feel the effects without feeling the effects. I get headaches every now and then, I don’t want to say I’m starting to develop a stutter but lately I’ve been having a little bit of difficulty articulating my words. Me and my friends were actually reading down the list of symptoms of CTE and it’s like ever since I’ve stopped playing football I’ve noticed I have had a little bit more irritability. I have a little more of quickness to anger. The whole entire symptom list like I don’t want to say that I have all of them but, I can check a lot of the boxes,” Lamos said.
This is something that should be alarming to all parents that have children playing football, but the key isn’t just in preventing concussions, it’s making sure that students know when a concussion has occurred. Even when they do realize that something is wrong, that still isn’t always enough to get them off the field.
“It's a very toxic, masculine thing but you don’t like to talk about injuries when you are hurt because it’s a form of weakness. Everyone has always told me through any type of sports, push through. Either you’re hurt or you’re injured, if you’re injured you come out, if you’re hurt you play through it and no one wants to be injured,” Lamos said.
This is one of the biggest problems regarding the health of football players at any level after they stop playing the game. Fervier mentions this isn’t just a case of student athletes swallowing their pride to see viable change. The parents need to be knowledgeable too.
“With coaches and parents I believe that if they are knowledgeable about the signs of concussions, they can teach their kids how to observe these kinds of things as well,” he said.
As the old saying goes though, boys will be boys. And getting them to admit that they are actually hurt is a challenge itself. For Fervier, he believes that we need to pay more attention to how we treat male injuries compared to female injuries.
“Females actually reported more concussions as opposed to males, in similar sports with similar rules. That is important in answering that question because what we know if you got hit as a guy, you were told to toughen up. As a female, you are always asking if they are hurt,” Fervier said.
Although it varies from person to person, for people like Lamos, even through all of the injuries, he stays steady in his love for the game.
“If I went back in time and was able to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a single thing because of how much I love the sport and how much I love doing it,” he said.
So in looking at how the game of football can be made safer for young people, there isn’t an exact answer. Not all children are the same, some will let you know they have any injury. Some, even though they have been told the dangers of concussions, live in the moment and will continue to put their bodies at risk.
No matter what is done, as long as the game of football exists, so will concussions. It’s ultimately up to the student athletes and more importantly the parents to decide when the game is too dangerous. The more transparent the athlete is, the safer the game will be for everyone. As Lamos’ story proves, there is always something to be done to make the game safer.