The worst fears of fans and friends of NFL great Junior Seau were confirmed Thursday, when a team of scientists concluded that the renowned linebacker suffered a debilitating brain disease likely caused by two decades worth of hits to the head.
In May 2012, Seau shot himself in the chest and donated his brain to neuroscientists at the National Institutes for Health, who had been conducting research on traumatic brain injury and football players. A team of independent researchers, who did not know they were studying Seau's brain, all concluded that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative disease typically caused by multiple hits to the head.
In October 2012, Boise Weekly examined the issue of head injuries in football in Idaho (BW, News, "Head Games," October 10, 2012).
"Most of us played through an era when somebody might have had a concussion and they would be back in the next game," Matt Holtry, head football coach and athletic director at Homedale High School told BW. "But the good part is the new awareness. And the education part of it is huge. So the coaches all agreed upon the new protections."
In fact, the 2012 Idaho Legislature passed a new measure—signed into law by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter—that says if an athlete younger than 18 years old "has sustained a concussion or head injury and exhibits outward signs of symptoms of such ... then the youth athlete shall be removed from play." The athlete will only be allowed to return to play once he or she is "evaluated and authorized to return by a qualified health care professional who is trained in the evaluation and management of concussions."
"It's all part of the step-by-step," said Holtry, referring to a young man he benched for a full game after taking a hit to the helmet. "He has to pass some tests before he gets back on the field."
Additionally, Idaho school districts are now required by the Idaho Athletic Trainer's Association to train coaches to recognize the signs of a concussion. Holtry said Homedale High School has an advantage, because unlike many other small Idaho schools, Homedale has a team trainer who ensures that all coaches can double- and even triple-check symptoms of a possible concussion in their players.