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Youth Concussions Must Be Taken More Seriously

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Concussions are nothing to take lightly, specifically at the youth level of tackle football. So, what happens when a high school coach tries to force a kid back into the game? Nothing good can come from it, according to Scott Mitchell, host of KSL’s UnRivaled.

There is an article in the Deseret News regarding former Ridgeline High School student Konnor Finn who says he believed he suffered a concussion in 2017 but was told to “man up” and get back in the game. He is now suing Cache County School District and the Utah High School Activities Association for at least $300,000 to cover medical bills.

Both Alex Kirry and Mitchell of KSL’s UnRivaled have played tackle football at a variety of levels from youth all the way to the NFL in Mitchell’s case. Both have been coaches and are familiar with how serious head injuries can be and the protocol that must be followed.

There is a lot of pressure at all levels where coaches tell players to “shake it off” or to get back into the game. There is nothing wrong with trying to play through being hurt but there is a difference between being hurt and being injured, according to Mitchell.

“From my end. It was not alleged, I was told many times ‘you guys need to suck it up’ and I told myself ‘suck it up,'” Kirry said. “The whole thing was ‘you gotta play, I am not going to lose my starting position, I am not going to come out of this game and I don’t want to be the guy who misses any time.'”

Mitchell experienced all of this when he was in the NFL. If a player left the game for an injury, even briefly, it could mean being surpassed on the depth chart.

“It also was a culture where it was kind of funny, take some smelling salts, you get your bell rung and you move on. It wasn’t even a consideration to come out of the game or something you tried to do,” Mitchell said. “As a player, I lived that and never showed anyone I was injured, and I fought through a lot of things, including concussions.”

This still happens today in the NFL. Players get hit and get back into the game despite a possible head injury.

Logic Flies Out The Window

During the game itself, at any level, coaches and players have a lot going on and adrenaline is peaking. There is something on the line with a win or loss pending, but a player’s health should be far more important than winning or losing, according to the duo.

Sadly, that is not always the case.

“When you are in the heat of the game, you have one responsibility: it is to win,” Mitchell said. “You are so focused on that and rational thought goes out the door. You compromise and you are put in a position to compromise normal thought behavior.”

A recent example of adrenaline getting in the way of logic came from a high school game Kirry attended. With just seconds left in the game, a player got hit hard and was visibly shaken, unable to walk to the sideline. This was the backup quarterback and the game was on the line for a potential overtime but a coach wanted to overrule the trainer to get their player back on the field.

“I had first-hand experience. I saw a game this year and saw a coaching staff who tried to keep a kid in the game who was cross-eyed and it was bad. He was crying not because of pain because it is one of the symptoms and it was hard to watch,” Kirry said. “The coach comes over and hits him on the helmet and says, ‘let’s get back into this thing.'”

“A heated exchange between an assistant [and a trainer] that contained expletives all concerning this kid saying ‘don’t take this kid out of the game,’ while the trainer said ‘you will be beyond reported and in huge trouble, if you do this.'”

MORE KSL’s UnRivaled:

The athlete was taken off the field and didn’t return thanks to the doctor on the sideline. Who knows what would have happened if he would have gone back in and taken any sort of hit. It could have caused so much more damage just because an assistant high school coach wanted the chance to win a game, Kirry worried.

“I can tell you that it is so serious in high school because secondary concussion issues are massive in young people,” Mitchell added. “No matter how competitive you are you can not mess with these young kids and their heads at all. If they cry wolf and have a headache you have to respect it and you should.”

Tune into KSL Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast.

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