The latest study about the Canadian Football League and concussions might have wider impacts for football in North America. Researchers at Montreal’s McGill University conducted a survey of 454 CFL players during the 2016 preseason with support from the league and the CFL Players’ Association, and they published their results this month in a paper titled Why Professional Football Players Chose Not to Reveal Their Concussion Symptoms during a Practice or Game in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. Bill Beacon of The Canadian Press covered this in a story Tuesday, and perhaps the most interesting part is about how many CFL players thought they might be concussed, but decided not to report that:
The research team surveyed 454 Canadian Football League players with support from the CFL and the CFL Players’ Association. Players anonymously filled out questionnaires during the 2016 pre-season.
They found that 23.4 per cent felt they had suffered a concussion during the 2015 season and that 82.1 per cent of that group did not seek treatment for a suspected concussion at least once during the season. Only six per cent who said they would see a doctor after a game did so, and only about 20 per cent always reported concussions to the team medical staff.
The report’s conclusions noted that “players seemed educated about the concussion evaluation process and possible treatment guidelines, but this knowledge did not necessarily translate into safe and appropriate behaviour at the time of injury.”
“Presenting them with the facts is good, but not enough,” said [lead researcher Scott] Delaney, head physician for the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer, assistant physician for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and team doctor for McGill’s football team and men’s and women’s soccer squads.
That speaks to a larger issue in convincing players that it’s worth reporting concussions, and that also applies to the NFL and NCAA. And later comments Delaney made to Beacon show that it’s not really potentially-lost pay that’s the issue, as unpaid football players at McGill (which competes in Canada’s university league, U Sports) had similar responses:
What does not appear to be a major factor is financial gain. He said CFL players’ reluctance to admit to concussions was only slightly higher than what was found in a similar survey two years ago of unpaid student athletes on men’s and women’s teams in various sports at McGill and Concordia.
“They hid just as many concussions and they hid them for almost exactly the same reasons,” said Delaney. “They didn’t think it was very dangerous. They had done it before. They didn’t want to miss this game or the next game.
That’s certainly applicable to the NFL and NCAA as well, and it reinforces the role of concussion spotters. But even having spotters call for players to be taken out fails sometimes, as we recently saw in the Cam Newton concussion discussion. This study is notable because it suggests that even many players aware of the long-term risks associated with concussions try to hide those injuries to avoid missing time and potentially being replaced, and the amount of regular turnover on football rosters makes that anything but an insignificant fear. There have been plenty of controversies over the CFL’s handling of concussions in the past, including the Buck Pierce one in 2012 seen at top, and those are likely to continue down the road. And that’s a larger issue that football is going to have to address going forward, in Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere.