It used to be the norm in football that when a player suffered a head injury--or "got his bell rung" as was often said--he would go back into the game to show how tough he was, often at the behest of trainers and coaches. While this might have boosted the player's image in the eyes of his teammates, more often than not the player was putting himself at considerable risk for long-term brain damage. And players who go on to play professional football subject themselves to thousands of hits over the course of many years.
In recent years, regulators have finally been convinced to enact some safeguards to protect athletes. In California, a new law will take effect next month that requires a concussion-awareness form to be signed by the parents of kids who play school-sponsored sports.
Unfortunately, it took tragic events to finally put the sports world on notice about the severity of brain injuries. Several former NFL players have died in the last few years after suffering from dementia-like symptoms, known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy. One former player for the San Francisco 49ers, George Visger, suffers from symptoms including seizures, anger management issues and memory loss that he attributes to his career in the game.
The trends have been alarming. In a given football season, one-fifth of high school players suffer some sort of brain injury. And because an athlete is two to three times more likely to receive another concussion once he has already sustained one, players who have been skilled enough to reach the professional ranks are especially at risk of harboring long-term damage.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, "Concussion care now priority in prep sports," Bill Paterson, Nov. 28, 2011