By Ken Reed

One of the toughest sports scenes I’ve witnessed in recent years came about last football season when the Carolina Panthers’ Luke Kuechly took a blow to his head and suffered his second concussion in two years. TV cameras captured Kuechly sobbing uncontrollably as he tried to corral his emotions following the brain injury.

Many observers were talking at the time about whether or not Kuechly should continue playing football and risking further brain damage.

Well, he came back for another NFL season this year and recently suffered his third concussion in three seasons during the Panthers’ 28-23 loss to Philadelphia. Some people actually believe Kuechly has had more than three concussions over the past three years.

At any rate, a recent Sports Illustrated article has called Kuechly, “a poster child for the NFL’s concussion problem.”

“If Luke Kuechly has in fact suffered a concussion, then a third in three years puts him into a precarious situation,” said Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz, a neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina.

“What the research has taught us is that once you have had three concussions, especially over a relatively short period of time, you are at risk for a slower recovery and an increased risk for subsequent concussions.”

Research at UNC has also revealed that football players with three or more concussions are at an increased risk for depression and mild cognitive impairment later in life.

Then, of course, there’s the elephant in football locker rooms across the country: CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a terrible degenerative brain disease associated with repetitive blows to the head.

“The big elephant in the room that people don’t seem to deal with is, do those increased hits mean that he’s at increased risk for later-life problems like CTE?” asked Dr. Robert Stern, a neuroscientist and the Director of Clinical Research for Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center.

“And concussions themselves are not really the big issue when it comes to CTE. It’s really the overall exposure to repetitive impacts, the subconcussive trauma. We don’t think the number of concussions, per se—which are symptomatic mild brain injuries—are the big issues. It’s the repetitive issue of getting hit over and over and over and over again without the rest and recovery of someone who has a diagnosed concussion.”

Kuechly obviously loves the game of football. And he’s very good at it, winning the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year award.

But it’s extremely hard to watch him repeatedly do damage to his brain on the football field … especially when one considers the potential long-term anguish — to himself and those that love him — he’s voluntarily subjecting himself to.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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