Concussions: What makes protecting our Brains so hard?

It seems confusing that so many concussed athletes have sought to continue playing despite the risk of disabling or deadly brain damage. It seems that this behavior, like so many, does not have a simplistic or singular factor providing an answer. My experience with athletes ignoring the short and long term consequences of significant injury indicates they do so due to a lack of information and for self-esteem regulation. It is only within the recent past that scholastic, collegiate and professional athlete sport organizations are making the “concussion problem” an urgent matter. Unfortunately, this dovetails with the fact that it has only been in recent years that neurologists and neuropsychologists have come to realize the long term effects of singular and multiple concussions (more accurately labeled Traumatic Brain Injury:TBI). Now that more is known, and educational campaigns are quickly being created, more athletes can protect themselves or request medical attention. However, an athlete’s desire to continue playing and/or practicing despite a TBI can result in high risk behavior leading to degenerative brain damage. This narcissistic and potentially self-destructive action serves as a defense against other intolerable emotional responses. These may include feelings of loss on many fronts. Loss of the joy in sport participation, loss of self-esteem if much of one’s worth comes from the sport participation (jock vs athlete phenomenon), loss of social experiences from team or competition activity, and the loss body integrity arising from one’s brain not functioning “normally”. Other intolerable emotions resulting from a career halting or ending TBI could be a “fear of being viewed as soft” by other athlete’s and/or coaches, exposure of social and avocational deficits, and the frustration of not attaining long held performance achievement goals. Overall, protecting oneself in the face of the potentially harsh consequences of post concussion syndrome is more challenging then one might anticipate. Marshall Mintz, Psy.D. Clinical and Sport Psychologist