Athletes, doctors look to raise awareness of dangers of concussions

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GREEN BAY — Green Bay Packers star receiver Greg Jennings is one of a handful of Packers players who have suffered concussions in training camp. Team doctors say Jennings has had three concussions, though he only recalls two. More and more studies are proving these traumatic brain injuries are not something to be taken lightly.

William Henderson played fullback for the Green Bay Packers from 1995 to 2006. Number 33 started all 16 games nine times in his first 11 seasons. The 41-year-old Henderson owns a Super Bowl ring, a Pro-Bowl jersey, membership in the franchise’s Hall of Fame — and more concussions than he can remember.

“Counting concussions I had, a statistic was revealed by our equipment guy that I had two helmet fractures per month. Concussions — I pretty much started every game with one,” Henderson said.

Henderson recently joined the large group of NFL players who are suing the National Football League because he contends information about the long-term dangers of multiple concussions was kept from them.

“Now that we have the knowledge that the issue could’ve been resolved if they had been willing to say we’re gonna be willing to take players out of the game and not let them return for that ‘second devastating concussion,'” Henderson said.

Speedskater Erica Hawke suffered a concussion while training when she was 12 years old. Even as she skates on, with the goal of being an Olympian in 2014 and a photographer after that, Hawke says she can’t forget her TBI — traumatic brain injury.

“It felt like a dream. I didn’t know my name. I didn’t know where I was. I was completely oblivious to what was going on. I think having a concussion even one time — it’s very dangerous, and having a second could be lethal,” Hawke said.

Dr. Michael McCrea is a board-certified clinical neuropsychologist and the director of Brain Injury Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He is the co-director of the Sports Concussion Program with the Medical College of Wisconsin, Children’s Hospital and Froedtert Hospital.

“Wisconsin is one of 39 states to have approved legislation relevant to sport concussions and youth. Medical clearance is required for an athlete to return to practice or games after any concussion which is a major change from how things were managed before where athletes could monitor their own progress,” Dr. McCrea said.

Dr. McCrea was part of an expert panel that took part in a concussion awareness and safety event last month at Miller Park. Coaches, administrators and trainers learned an important message — one parents of concussed student-athletes need to understand.

“My message to parents is concussions happen frequently in sports. If managed properly, your son or daughter will be fine over a period of seven days in most instances. When they are mismanaged, they can sustain that second injury and problems then ensue,” Dr. McCrea said.

The importance of safe and proper instruction at the youth football level can’t be overemphasized. It’s important that athletes who have suffered concussions be honest about how they’re feeling — no matter how much he or she wants to return to their sport.