Opinion: The dangerous connection between sports, concussions and depression

Contact Maggie Wachtel at mwachte2@kent.edu.

Contact Maggie Wachtel at [email protected]

Maggie Wachtel

An Ohio State University football player was found dead in an apparent suicide Sunday after disappearing last Wednesday.

Kosta Karageorge texted his mother shorty before he disappeared, writing “Sorry if I am an embarrassment, but these concussions have my head all f—-d up.”

Karageorge was a senior walk-on defensive lineman and a former wrestler. He was no stranger to contact sports and the sometimes-unfortunate consequences that came with them.

According to ESPN, Karageorge had suffered a concussion a few weeks prior. Being a wrestler most of his life, he had experienced them before.

According to the Mayo Clinic, certain concussion symptoms, like depressions and confusion, don’t present themselves right away. They can appear days or even weeks after the diagnosis. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons published a study that said, of the estimated 1.2 million Americans who participate in football each year, 10 to 20 percent of them are at-risk of getting a concussion or a mild brain injury.

The study also said that individuals who have suffered multiple concussions are at-risk for further neurological disorders down the road, specifically, clinical depression.

JAMA Neurology published a study where it studied 34 retired NFL players, ages 41 to 79. During the study, it found that former players who exhibited symptoms of depression tended to have an abnormality in their brains called white matter. White matter is the group of nerve fibers that connect neurons to each other. The neurons send signals to each other, but when one experiences a concussion, the brain is knocked around and the neurons, and some of those nerve connections, can stretch and tear, causing the abnormalities in the white matter and ultimately causing depression.  

Junior Seau played in the NFL as a linebacker from 1990 to 2009. He committed suicide in 2012. According to ESPN, his brain was examined after his death and it was found he suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, likely due to the concussions he had gotten in his 19-year career in the NFL. A major characteristic of CTE is clinical depression, according to the Mayo Clinic.

After his death, it was found that Seau had no prior reported concussions during his NFL career, which suggests that he may not have ever reported his symptoms to NFL personnel.

According to ESPN, In November of 2012, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Alex Smith, suffered a concussion and wasn’t cleared medically by a neurologist for several weeks. Colin Kaepernick started in his place and Smith ended up losing his starting job to Kaepernick.

The NCAA concluded that concussions go unreported in football more than any other sport, and this is exactly why. More down time is required to recover and players fear losing their starting job. So they just don’t report them.

After their findings, the NCAA garnered $70 million in funding to better diagnose concussions and help monitor signs of depression and suicidal behavior.

If you are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, there is always help. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.