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Saturday, april 30, 2011 ❘ the gazette ❘

B3

concussions

pair of concussions ended falcon’s career by FRANK SCHWAb

Air Force cornerback Reggie Rembert is taken off the field against Northwestern State on Sept. 4, 2010. Even though Rembert was knocked unconscious and had to be strapped to a backboard, he said he still wanted to go back in the game.

frank.schwab@gazette.com —

Considering the ramifications of the play, which included short-term memory problems and the eventual end to his football career, it’s surprising how Steve Shaffer remembers every detail. During Air Force’s spring game in 2008, Shaffer, a tight end, was split out in the slot on the right side and ran a post route to the middle. Shea Smith was the quarterback, and he threw a little high and a little behind Shaffer, leaving him vulnerable. Linebacker Brandon Reeves, defending the play, hit Shaffer in the right temple. Shaffer didn’t have any documented concussions in high school, but knew something was wrong. He kept playing, not letting anyone know his head was swimming. He lined up in the wrong spot because he couldn’t remember where to go. He had trouble blocking after that because the defenders looked blurry. On the bus on the way back to the locker room, he went in the bathroom and vomited. During the spring game, he said he wasn’t really trying to hide his symptoms, he just did what came naturally and kept playing. He said he guesses he was trying to be tough. “I wasn’t sure of the repercussions and severity,” Shaffer said. “I figured that was part of football. “For me, there was no reason to think that it was that big of a threat. I didn’t know any better.” When he got back to the locker room, teammates could tell he wasn’t right. When Shaffer told them repeatedly he didn’t need to see the trainer, the Falcons players gave him no choice — either

THE GAZETTE FilE pHoTo

he was going to the training room or they were going to get the trainers themselves. Shaffer went to the training room and was diagnosed with a concussion. Shaffer was just a freshman, but an up-and-comer in the Falcons program. He had good hands and was being compared to standout tight end Travis Dekker. He said coach Troy Calhoun told him he could be an integral part of the passing game as a sophomore. The next few months ended that dream, and his career. He couldn’t shake the symptoms. The medicines, including blood thinner and pain medications, turned him into “a zombie.” He had short-term memory loss, a frequent light-headed feeling and pressure in his head.

He was sent home late in the spring semester of his freshman year. He felt better over summer and was cleared to practice. On the first day of contact drills, he dived for a pass with a defender on his back. His legs hit the ground first, then his head hit. “That was it,” Shaffer said. “Same symptoms. Same song and dance.” Doctors sat down with Shaffer and his family and laid out the truth — it seemed like another concussion was likely, and there was no way to tell if that one would be worse. He was told the next one could cause permanent damage. He was told it could be deadly. Shaffer gave up football, having played six games for Air Force. As awareness of concus-

sions has increased in the past few years, Air Force and the NCAA have educated football players on the severity. The NCAA sent out a memorandum last year requiring schools to present educational materials on concussions, and players must sign statements in which they accept responsibility for reporting injuries and illnesses, including symptoms of a concussion. The NCAA also gave schools a “recommended best practices” list for treating concussions, although football trainer Tony Peck said Air Force already had many of those in place. There’s a concussion fact sheet brochure for coaches and players, and Peck said head injuries are discussed with players during a pre-

season meeting. Peck said that he has noticed players and their parents becoming more aware of the issue, especially with media attention to concussions in the NFL. Peck said it can still be difficult at times to get players to report concussions symptoms. Without honesty, it’s impossible to diagnose some symptoms, like headache, blurred vision or dizziness. Peck said Falcons are asked to tell the training staff if they see one of their teammates in trouble. “An athlete might say, ‘I know what it is, I know I don’t feel right, but I also know if I tell somebody they’re yanking me and I’m done for the day and I don’t want that,’” Peck said. “That’s why it’s so important that their teammates see it

and don’t look at it with that bias.” Still, the culture of playing through injuries in football — which might have been a reason Shaffer kept going during the 2008 spring game — is strong. Cornerback Reggie Rembert, who was a senior last season, said he had three concussions in his career. One came in the season opener last season. He was knocked unconscious, strapped to a backboard and taken to the hospital. Still, he said he complained on the way that he wanted to go back and play in the game. He said that after a concussion against Utah his junior year, he tried to hide his symptoms because he wanted to keep playing. “It’s just my mentality,” Rembert said. “I played through injuries my whole career.” Shaffer had a tough time getting over his concussions. The fall of his junior year he was playing pickup basketball, took a glancing blow to the head and suffered a concussion. He suffered another when he fell while skiing. Shaffer found a safe competitive outlet in handball. He picked up the sport and after just a month of playing he was added to the men’s national team pool, which as of February was comprised of 42 players. From that group, players are chosen for competitions like the Pan American Games and the Olympics. Shaffer is worried about getting hit in handball, which does happen on occasion. He hasn’t had any problems yet, but the concern about concussions is always on his mind. “My lifestyle has really changed,” Shaffer said. “I have to be careful.”

concussion has been a big headache for buffs’ jeffery by DAVID RAMSEy

david.ramsey@gazette.com —

The ASSOCIATeD PReSS

Colorado’s Chucky Jeffery tries to dribble around Texas A&M’s Adrienne Pratcher on Jan. 8. Four days later, Jeffery suffered a concussion in a game against Kansas.

On Jan. 12, Chucky Jeffery leaped for a rebound. Her life hasn’t been the same since. Jeffery, a former basketball star at Sierra High School, is a sophomore point guard at Colorado. She suffered a blow to the head against Kansas on Jan. 12. Four months later, she struggles with the remnants of her concussion. She suffers from migraines. She has to be careful with her workouts. She’s had issues with her memory. “Concussions, they are more serious than what you would think,” she said. “For me, it’s always why, why, why can’t I do this and that, but a lot of things are going on in your brain, and you have to give it time to rest. “You think you’re fine, but you’re not.” Jeffery has been forced to stay away from the gym, where she’s usually found lifting weights and shooting jumpers. “Having to sit out and miss out when you know everybody else is in the gym getting better, it’s tough,” she said. Her troubles descended on her quickly. Jeffery is only 5-foot-10, but she finished among the Big 12 leaders in rebounding. She chases the ball with ferocious hunger. As she reached for the ball against Kansas, her forehead collided with the elbow

ramsey: Little supports NFL in protecting players from dangerous hits from page 1 —

Little, nearing the end of his career, was carrying the ball toward the sideline and moving rapidly when he saw Colts linebacker Mike Curtis closing in. As Little stepped out of bounds he relaxed ever so slightly. He had departed the violent playing field. He was safe. Or so he thought. Curtis caught Little on the side of his head with a forearm smash, using a vicious tackling technique known as the “clothesline.” Little crashed to the grass, his head exploding with pain. He remembers, barely, collapsing in the shower after the game. He collapsed

again on the team plane. He awoke on the flight, looked up and saw frightened teammate Lyle Alzado gazing at him with grave concern. The hit infuriated Little in 1974. The hit still infuriates him in 2011. “He saw me running out of bounds!” Little said, his voice rising, the anger still raging decades after the hit. “Why did he do that? Why did he hit me?” The hit left him in great pain in 1974. The hit still drains him in 2011. Little estimates he suffered five major concussions during his football career. A concussion, Little emphasizes, is a lifelong injury. The effects of a big hit fol-

low an athlete for decades. Little retired 36 years ago, but he’s reminded of his football career nearly every day. He searches for lost keys and finds them in his refrigerator. Why did he place them there? He has no idea. He loses his place in the middle of phone conversations, forgetting the subject of conversation, sometimes even forgetting whom he’s talking with. He understands football is a violent game. He knew, even as he battled for yardage on off-tackle plays, he was placing his body in jeopardy. But he is baffled, and angered, by how much fans enjoy dangerous, illegal hits.

He sees a player flat on his back, his helmet knocked loose, his mind scattered. And Little, even as his eyes fill with tears, hears fans rejoicing. “People are cheering for that?” Little said. “There’s no place for it. That’s not football. You hit somebody illegally, you’re hurting him for life.” A line, Little believes, must be drawn. He enthusiastically supports the NFL’s new emphasis on protecting players. He listens to fans howling with disapproval after officials throw a flag for a blow to the head. He just smiles. He knows better. He understands a brain is precious, and fragile.

For me, it’s always why, why, why can’t I do this and that, but a lot of things are going on in your brain, and you have to give it time to rest. You think you’re fine, but you’re not.” chuckY jeFFerY — cu point guard about her concussion

of Jayhawks forward Aishah Sutherland There was, Jeffery emphasizes, nothing dirty or intentional about the collision. Sutherland didn’t see her. “It stunned me a little bit, but my adrenaline was going so it really didn’t affect me,” she said. Jeffery was sitting in the CU locker room after the game when teammate Brittany Spears approached her. “There’s a knot on your head,” Spears said. Spear was right. There was a knot, a big one, forming over Jeffery’s left eye.

The headaches arrived the next day and have yet to go away. Usually, the pain begins above her left eye, right where Sutherland’s elbow landed, and then spreads. When the pain begins to arrive, Jeffery usually heads to bed. Her headaches typically last 30 to 45 minutes. “It hurts really bad,” Jeffery said. “I lie down and try to fall asleep to get it to go away.” This routine usually works. She awakens with her head feeling better. But the headaches soon return.

Concussions in sports (6)  

Series of articles in Colorado Springs Gazette reporting on the scope of concussion injuries in sports, and thier mitigation. Published Apr...

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