Concussions: the Battle Between the Sideline and the Training Room
Photo Credit To AP Photo/Wade Payne

Concussions: the Battle Between the Sideline and the Training Room

This may be the first time since I joined the VFL Insider team a couple of months ago where I’ve written something that is directly from my point of view, a true editorial column.

Throughout this week, I’ve seen countless tweets and videos breaking down when and what happened to Vols offensive lineman Brett Kendrick this past Saturday during Tennessee’s game against Kentucky.

I will lead this off by saying I was originally skeptical of the reports that Jones forced Kendrick to play multiple quarters with a concussion. At the time new “reports,” first started coming out, the primary individual was someone that in my experiences has been more wrong than right, and I believed he was pushing an agenda to expedite the process of getting Butch Jones fired. That said, I apologize to Vol Colonel. (Someone let him know, he’s blocked me on Twitter).

As more and more reports and details of the Kendrick situation came out, I more or less sat back and took a look at various reactions. I also thought about other reactions I have seen in regards to concussions in sports, especially football. Most times you see the generic story about how this player has had “x” amount of concussions. Occasionally, you will get an in-depth interview with an athlete that details what they have experienced with a concussion.

Well since concussions are the talk of Rocky Top and we likely may never hear Kendrick’s side of it, I thought I’d share my experiences.

DISCLAIMER: I am not defending, accusing, or blaming Butch Jones, the UT Medical Staff, or the UTAD of anything in this column. I also am not placing any form of blame on Brett Kendrick.

My junior year of high school in 2003, I went with a teammate to see a movie at West Town Mall. My mom let me borrow her new Pontiac Aztec, as I did not have my own car at that time. Heading home towards Northshore Drive on Morrell Road, a car pulled out from a side street, saw me, and slammed on the breaks in the middle of the road. I attempted to swerve around this car, but ended up clipping the back left bumper. I jumped the curb and my face hit the steering wheel. I lost consciousness for a brief second, but came to just in see the air bag deploy in my face.

Next thing I know, I’m waking up to someone trying to open my car door. I calmly refused to get out, asking this person to give me a minute. I found my cell phone and called my mom. This is the exact conversation:

“Hey mom…..ummmm I wrecked the car.”

“What happened? Where are you?

“Morrell”

“Have you called 911?”

“No, I’m supposed to call you if any thing happens to the car.”

“Hang up and call 911 right now. I’ll be there in a second.”

“This guy wants me out of the car. Oh, he said they already called 911.”

At this point I called 911 myself. They told me they were aware and on their way. Within minutes, emergency personnel and my mom were sitting there talking to me on the sidewalk. I was able to remember swerving and hitting the curb, but then my mom said something to me that absolutely confused me.

“What about the telephone pole?”

I had no clue what she was talking about until they showed me that I had jumped the curb and hit a telephone pole head on. The EMTs on the scene took a look at me and suggested I go to the hospital to get looked at. I refused and said I wanted to go home. After a couple minutes of debating, my mom gave up and agreed to just take me home, but she would keep an eye on me. We went home and I went to bed to get some sleep. After all, I had football workouts the next morning.

I woke up the next morning a little disoriented with a slight headache. A teammate came to my house like normal to take me to workouts. I made it about 15 minutes into lifting weights before the lights of the weight room and the clanking of the weights gave me a massive headache. I stepped out into the hallway, got dizzy, and threw up in a trash can. I went into the semi-dim locker room and sat there until it was time to go to 1st period. I didn’t say a word to my coaches outside of, “My breakfast didn’t sit well with me.”

Why? Because I wanted to play.

To this day, you can ask my mom and she will say she is still mad at herself for not making me going to the hospital and at me for saying I was fine.

My second concussion came during my senior year in a game right before halftime. I was running a go route right before half, a Hail Mary to hopefully get some points before half. The ball was over thrown or I was too slow (depends on who you ask), but either way it landed about 8 yards in front of me. The deep safety was still coming at me as I slowed down, plowing into me and knocking me to the ground.

I remember that I rolled myself towards the sideline where teammates and a trainer helped me up. It was half time so we started heading towards the locker room. Several teammates noticed that I was extremely angry, but they just assumed it was about taking a big hit.

Once in the locker room, I was approached by the athletic director who asked me if I was alright.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just pissed.”

“About what?”

“That we lost the game.”

“Darago, it is half time.”

“SWEET! We still got a chance!”

I sat down, grabbed some water, and silently tried to make sense of everything that was going on.

A trainer eventually came up to me and asked how I was doing. I was able to say that I was fine and was just eager to get back to the game. That was it. Half time ended, I went out and played. Stayed in my room all day Saturday and Sunday because light was unbearable. Never said a word to my coaches or trainers.

Why? It was my senior year and I wanted to play.

Those two incidents were in 2003 and 2004. Obviously since then, research on concussions has grown increasingly and there is more awareness about the effects they can cause.

So let’s fast forward to around 2010 when I was working for my high school football team as an offensive assistant.

A player took a big hit to the head during a game and was immediately diagnosed by the trainer with a concussion. The following week at practice, this player begged to every coach and trainer that he felt fine, that he wanted to play. One practice, I had to sit with him in the coaches office as he took his concussion quiz (more or less) on the computer.

I asked the trainer what he was doing. She explained it to me, said it is part of protocol now. It was basically a quiz with basic math questions or you had to click on the right colored shape. Part of it was also the program would give you five words to remember followed by more math questions and then you had to recall those five words and type them.

I said to myself, “That’s new.” Keep in mind, back in my day, all you had to do was answer one or two questions, say you were fine, and then you were good to go.

About a year later, a story caught my eye that kind of made me laugh and made me think. In 2011, former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning said during an interview, “They have these new (brain) tests we have to take. Before the season, you have to look at 20 pictures and turn the paper over and then try to draw those 20 pictures. And they do it with words, too. Twenty words, you flip it over, and try to write those 20 words.”

He added, “Then, after a concussion, you take the same test and if you do worse than you did on the first test, you can’t play. So I just try to do badly on the first test.”

I still think about my actions when I played and Peyton’s quote every time I hear about concussions. Do football players know what they are signing up for? Sure. Did they back in the ’50s or ’60s? Eh, probably not as much as we know now.

To come full circle, and please keep in mind my disclaimer earlier, I have mixed feelings on this entire Kendrick situation.

Did a coach or multiple coaches know about his concussion? Maybe.

Did a trainer or medical professional know about his concussion? Maybe.

Did Kendrick say to his coaches or trainers he was fine? Maybe.

There really are multiple ways to look at this situation.

From a coaches’ perspective, did you knowingly let a player play with a concussion? Did you legitimately not know and let the player play after he said however many times that he was fine?

From a players’ perspective, did you give misinformation to stay in out of fear of losing your spot, upsetting your coaches, or letting down your teammates? Did you fake being ok because deep down you wanted to be out there playing with your team, regardless of how bad you felt?

On both sides, these are questions we will likely never know the answers to unless something major happens with the situation. Are there coaches that coerce injured players into staying in games? Sure. Are there players that lie about their condition because they want to try to tough it out and play? Absolutely.

That is the interesting battle on the sidelines and the training room. Athletes that love to compete and will risk their health to do so and coaches that have to decide whether a win or two is more important than player safety.

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