Sports Injuries

Certainly playing a contact sport, especially on the professional level, comes with the risk of injury. Injuries are part of a professional athlete's life. But injuries can also take place on a pee-wee football field, the ski slopes, or a local bike path. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1.6-3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States each year. And women and girls are just as likely as men and boys to sustain a brain injury playing sports.

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Thomas Jones on Being in the NFL

Thomas Jones on Being in the NFL
[Thomas Jones] Well, I started playing football as a 7-year-old kid back in Virginia—that's where I'm from. My town is very, very small. It's similar to a Friday Night Lights movie—football movie. 4,500 people, football is just a way of life. So that's where I actually grew up, and that's where I started playing football. I ended up getting a football scholarship to the University of Virginia. I played there for four years, and then I was drafted in 2000 in the NFL draft. I was the 7th pick overall in the draft. I was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. From there I was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I signed a four-year deal with the Chicago Bears. I was traded after the Super Bowl in 2007 to the New York Jets, played there for three years and was released. I signed a two-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, and now I'm one year out of the NFL. So I played 12 years of NFL football, four years of major college football, four years of high school football, and pretty much—that's pretty much been my life. Being an NFL player is very—it's very exciting. It has its positives and its negatives. But there's definitely a lot of positives. I played in some really good cities. I played in Phoenix, which is a great city. I played in Tampa Bay, which is a great city. I played in Chicago, which is huge, and I played in New York City. And also in Kansas City, which is in the middle of the country. So I was blessed enough to play in a wide variety of cities and to enjoy a lot of experiences from each part of the country—each region. I would definitely have to say playing in New York City was probably the most glamorous place that I played just because it's New York, the city of bright lights. You're a recognized figure, so if you go to a restaurant downtown— if you've had a good game, you get a standing ovation. If you have a bad game, you don't get a standing ovation. But there's a lot of perks to it. You work everyday pretty much as far as practice and film study and training, which is—it's pretty grueling on you as far as your physical issues that come with that and also mental issues. You have to be really, really tough to play in the NFL for a year let alone 12 years. But—like I said—the payoff is huge if you're able to be successful because there are a lot of perks that come with it. The negative side of the NFL is—it's hard to explain. Physically it's tough on you. It's a very, very brutal game. It's a very violent game. You have a lot of injuries, but you have to have the mentality of, "If I can walk, I can play." So you may have an injury that someone that doesn't play in the NFL would have, and they may be out of work for two weeks. We don't have two weeks because we have a game every week—every Sunday. Sometimes the week is cut short if you have a Thursday night game so you'll only have a couple of days to recover. Then sometimes you may have a Monday night game so you have maybe one extra day. But in all, you have a maximum of seven to eight days to recover to be ready to go and play again at a high level. With that comes pressure because if you can't play at a high level because of injuries, there is always someone else there to take your spot. So that's where the mental toughness comes in and the emotional issues that come with being an NFL player. There are so many aspects to it besides just what people see on TV.

Why Are Girls More Likely to Sustain a TBI in Sports?

Why Are Girls More Likely to Sustain a TBI in Sports?
If you look at the frequencies of injuries, girls sports are much more likely to be injured than boys. And I don't think it's because girls are rougher than boys; I think it's because their heads are different. And I think that's one of the more interesting things about a brain injury is that no two injuries are alike because every skull is different. And the way the brain rests in everybody's skull is different. So, clearly, the fact that girls are sustaining more injuries says to me that the structure--their basically morphological structure is different. And their hormonal structure is different, so I think there is a lot about the endocrine system that may either be promoting injury in women, but also may be promoting recovery, okay? There's an acute trial going now on the use of progesterone in the emergency room for people who are injured. And some of the early pilot data said that this worked better in men than in women. Well, women have it, okay? Men don't. So you're basically talking about hormonal augmentation in one group that was not needed in the other group.

Should You Let Your Child Play Contact Sports?

Should You Let Your Child Play Contact Sports?
I'm wearing two hats here; I'm wearing brain injury scientist, and I'm wearing parent hat. I'm an avid sports fan. I participated in many contact and collision sports over my lifetime. What I try to balance as a parent is the enjoyment that my son or daughter might experience from the sports participation, the lessons they may learn, and the safety of their participation. My perspective is--as it relates to concussion-- is that a single event is a transient neurologic event that has a rapid and complete recovery in a few days in the overwhelming majority of cases. If I sensed that my son or daughter was at increased risk of cumulative effects from repeated concussion, then I would rethink the equation and perhaps steer them away from that contact or collision sport. But until then, as long as I am reasonably confident about their safe participation and the safe participation principles of the organizing body for that sport, I think I'd be inclined to let them participate.

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