The names of Jacob Bell and Andrew Sweat might be familiar for any football fan. One is a perennial starter on the offensive line in the NFL, and the other is from college powerhouse Ohio State, primed for the 2012 NFL Draft that recently took place. The only problem is, you won’t be seeing either of them play a down from here on out.
In what might be looked at as the first trickle of an unstoppable waterfall, the two players chose their health and longevity over America’s most popular sport. And neither of the men is too unhappy about it.
Andrew Sweat was a tough-as-nails linebacker for the Buckeyes, who was undeterred by two shoulder surgeries, a torn ACL, and a dislocated elbow (amongst other injury issues). But it was a problem in December of 2011 that finally made an impact… he lost some of his short term memory.
The haze of a concussion – his third at OSU – had left him with classic symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, including depression and forgetfulness; trouble focusing, and cognitive issues. That’s when he made the biggest decision of his life. Andrew Sweat walked away from the game.
While it was a decision he possibly couldn’t have imagined for himself, and one that many of his supporters were confused by, Sweat was doing it with a bigger goal in mind. In fact, some articles suggest that as much as 90 percent of athletes playing football through college will walk away with some sort of permanent injury. And leading doctors in the field of concussions, like Robert Rudelic, who has worked with the Oakland Raiders and has been studying the head trauma for over eight years, are beginning to revolutionize their approach for a revolutionary problem.
“Right now one of the biggest problems is the confusion on what’s a concussion; and second, what to do about it,” said Rudelic. He stresses that most doctors will simply recommend rest and watch for signs of headaches or sleep issues, but that’s very different from exploring a treatment for the concussion itself.
“There are steps I take with my clients to eliminate or reverse the trauma/damage done to the brain, both on a physical and emotional level,” Rudelic added. And through his years with the Raiders he has taken approaches from different fields of medicine including acupuncture, chiropractics, and sports medicine, among others. So while it will always be dangerous to play any sport, the belief is that if athletes are treated correctly in the first 24-48 hours after the concussion, the chances of permanent damage are vastly reduced.
That hasn’t stopped players like Sweat or Bell from walking away. And Bell is hoping that his sudden retirement can actually aid in the awareness around the league about developmentally damaging problems. He’s pushing for rookies to be given information on concussion awareness at the annual NFL Rookie Symposium, and he’d like a baseline brain scan to be included in the medical testing done before a contract. Bell is also pushing for more studies to be more accessible for players that might otherwise ignore the potential risks.
No matter what way you look at it, the face of sports is changing before our eyes. Who knows what kinds of players will be opting for early retirement next year? One thing’s for sure, a rebooted idea of player safety can only lead to a more promising future. Even if, right now, it seems like a Hail Mary.
"Injuries to Head Lead Sweat to New Path." Toledo Blade. Web. 04 June 2012. <http://www.toledoblade.com/Ohio-State/2012/05/21/Injuries-to-head-lead-former-Ohio-State-Buckeye-Sweat-to-new-path.html>.
Rudelic, B.S., N.M.T., M.E.S., Robert. "Head Trauma and Concussions in Sports." E-mail interview. 25 May 2012.