Youth Concussions: The Story of a Mom on a Mission

Introduced to The Difference Maker

In April of 2010 I was speaking at the 7th annual Sports Related Conference on Concussion & Spine Injury at Fenway Park in my hometown of Boston, MA. I was thrilled to be sharing the speaking honors with the likes of Robert Cantu,MD, Arthur Day,MD, Micky Collins,MD and Ann McKee,MD, all outstanding leaders in the concussion world.

It was a wonderful professional experience for me. While listened to these amazingly smart doctors present to the sold-out audience, I was thoroughly impressed with the both the information provided by the speakers and their true compassion to protect the brains of our athletes.

After I finished speaking, I was introduced to Jean Rickerson.  Jean is the mother of a seriously concussed football player and the founder of SportsConcussions.org, an outstanding website focussed on the prevention and management of youth concussions.

Jean is an amazing woman with a never-ending passion to help others avoid the life-long issues that improperly treated concussions can result in.

I asked Jean to share her wonderful story to help her efforts to make concussion prevention and management a top priority in our communities.

Jean Rickerson’s Story

In November 2008 when my 16-year-old son sustained a concussion playing football, we were completely on our own.  Concussion awareness had not reached the level where it is today, state laws were virtually non-existent, and unbelievably, there was very little information on the internet.  It took me 10 weeks to find competent medical care, the longest weeks of my life.  I thought my bright, energetic, talented young son’s life was over, because he was no longer “there.”  Thankfully, his brain repaired itself, and the nightmare for us was over after four months. 

Three years later, the landscape is completely different.  Remarkably, the “culture change” many have been calling for has been rapid and thorough, albeit incomplete.

While many have worked tirelessly to change this tide for decades — long before anyone was listening – several key factors fell into place that accelerated our heightened awareness.

In 2009, Washington State became the first in the nation to pass concussion legislation calling for the removal of athletes from a game or practice if a concussion was suspected, and not allowing them to return without written medical authorization.  Named after Zackery Lystedt, a middle school football player who suffered a catastrophic injury, the law captured NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s attention.  By 2010, Goodell had adopted Zackery’s cause and urged all state governors to pass similar legislation. To date, 32 states have done so.

At about the same time, researchers at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in Boston, Massachusetts, were finding abnormal proteins called tau, in the brains of deceased athletes, many of whom had suffered repetitive head trauma.  Asked to testify before Congress, the researchers presented data that was difficult, if not impossible, to ignore.  Concussions became linked to a degenerative neurological disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and there was no turning back.

Meeting Roger Goodell, NFL Commissioner

So when my son and I met Roger Goodell last year, it was at the beginning of the sea-change.  He encouraged my son to set high goals for himself as an athlete, and later spoke to the crowd about his commitment to addressing the concussion crisis.  He kept his word.  Enormous fines were levied for head-to-head contact and players got the message.  NFL veterans changed the way they hit, and rookies followed suit.  It’s filtering down to our youth.

And that may be Goodell’s legacy.  Under his watch, we can all breathe a little easier.  The devastating hits of the past may remain there.  Youth coaches now have tacit permission to modify their practices and drills, while still emulating the pros.  High schools and colleges can graduate athletes with fewer checkmarks on their lifetime concussion cards.

We’re by no means done.  Several states now require school districts to keep track of the number of concussions sustained by their student-athletes. When these numbers start rolling in, it will send shockwaves through every family with an athlete at the dinner table.  But we need to know the magnitude of the challenge.  That knowledge will spur funding for more research, instigate policy changes where necessary, and result in a smarter, safer game from Pop Warner on up

Youth Concussions: Where Do We Go From Here?

Concussions are a hot topic.  From the NFL to collegiate athletes to PeeWee football leagues around the country, concussions are a major concern and for good reason.

Youth concussion management has come a long way in the past 3-5 years yet we have a long way to go to protect the brains of our youth.  Through continued efforts by key leaders in this field, such as Jean, and the sharing of information, the incidence of youth concussions will be reduced each year.

I’m impressed with recent improvements in youth concussion management and it’s pioneers such as Jean Rickerson who we can thank for helping to protect our children’s developing brains.

Author: Mike Ryan

After 26 seasons as a full-time certified athletic trainer and registered physical therapist in the National Football League, Mike Ryan has outstanding first-hand experience. His unique professional and athletic background has sharpened his skills in the arts of sports injury management, elite rehabilitation, performance enhancement and injury prevention. Mike is now taking his experience to mainstream America. His mission is simple: Sports Medicine advice that is easy to use and brings fast results. Learn more about Mike Ryan

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