By: Staff Reports | Gwinnett Citizen

The silent epidemic we can ignore no more

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

How could this one simple sentence from a book written in 1513 by Niccolo’ Machiavelli capture so well where I find myself standing today? 

For those that know me, know that I am not afraid of change. I actively seek it out. I even have business cards with the title ‘Change Agent.’ But there’s an issue before us as a society that feels like the Mount Everest of change and it’s going to require all of us to come together with conscious intent to make this change happen.

The time has come for us to all get real about the need to change the culture of youth sports.

Now, before you fold up this paper and start a rant, hear me out. This is not an anti-sports message. The life lessons our children learn playing organized sports are vital to their success. They need to learn to win and lose. They need to learn to be team players. The skill-building, social and moral development, and health benefits our children gain from athletics is invaluable. I am not proposing we take away sports; I’m simply saying we need to address head on a real health risk our children are exposed to when playing sports and change our way of thinking about and dealing with it. The issue at hand is concussion. 

The incident of concussion in youth sports today has grown to epidemic proportion. The CDC does not use the word “epidemic” lightly! An epidemic is defined as “a widespread occurrence of a disease in a community at a particular time.” Let’s reflect back on other epidemics in US history – smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, pandemic flus, polio, botulism, whooping cough. These are serious illnesses. We didn’t ignore and discount these health conditions when they became widespread. It’s curious then that concussion is commonly referred to as “a silent epidemic.” Why is this? Why is it we are having a hard time grasping the seriousness of concussion and why are we so slow to respond?

In February an open community forum on concussion was held here in Gwinnett to discuss this very issue. Concussion experts from across the State presented valuable information on the science of concussion, good policy and program implementation, and best practices in concussion management and care. The scientists, researchers, healthcare professionals, educational experts, athletic directors, coaches and athletes all concurred that as a society, we are still very much in denial about the severity of concussion and the lifelong effects it can have if not properly managed. Many think a concussion is just a bruise to the head that you can “shake off,” but in fact it is a traumatic brain injury that damages brain cells and creates chemical changes in the brain. Concussions are serious injuries that could be life altering, or even fatal, if not properly diagnosed and treated.

This is a real health issue facing all youth athletes today that we can ignore no more. We must educate ourselves about it, know how to react when it happens, and create a culture in our community where athletes feel they can be honest when they don’t feel right. To elevate the concussion discussion here in Gwinnett, we’re introducing this new column to raise awareness about concussion and share ways we can all engage in bringing about the change necessary to protect our children. We invite you to join in The Concussion Discussion! 

www.gaconcussioncoalition.org

You can contact Paige Havens by email: Havensp@bellsouth.net or call 678-938-4279