The price of playing the game

Kent State Flashes running back Trayion Durham sustained a concussion last football season that put him out of the game for two weeks. Concussion awareness is rising as more and more student athletes find it to be a life-altering issue.

Melanie Nesteruk

Kent State Flashes running back Trayion Durham sustained a concussion last football season that put him out of the game for two weeks. Concussion awareness is rising as more and more student athletes find it to be a life-altering issue.

Among the 18 intercolegiate sports at Kent State, football is one of the most risky and expensive. During the 2013 season, players sustained more than two dozen injuries. 

Football is the leading cause of school sports injuries nationally with more than 20,000 injuries each year, according to the College Football Assistance Fund. The most common injuries include sprains, bruises, dislocation, fractures and concussions — all of which can have lasting effects on players.

From former running back Dri Archer’s ankle injury in the first quarter of this season’s opener to defensive back Calvin Tiggle’s knee injury that rendered him unable to complete the 2012 season, football injuries continue to mount for Kent State football players.

Half a dozen current and former Kent State football players did not respond to requests for comment. Director of Athletic Communications Lyndsey Maurer said in an email that “students are advised not to talk about injuries (past or current).”

Kent State’s athletics department uses conditioning, training and education to tackle these issues, although some believe more could be done to cultivate safety practices into player’s routines. 

Breakdown of athletic department insurance claims

Total athletic department insurance claims in 2013: $404,190.37

After write down of the fee charge by the medical provider: $224,847.30

Amount covered by parental insurance: $90,054.58

Department deductible: $62,958.97

Amount covered by Athletic insurance: $23,168.64

Trayion Durham, running back for the Flashes, said football is a tradition in his family. 

He and his father have played football since they were each 4 years old, epitomizing a passion for the sport. When he sustained a concussion during a helmet-to-helmet collision last year, he began to re-evaluate his priorities.

“That’s my career; that’s my life,” he said. “It can change just like that.”

According to various athletic officials, Kent State covers all medical costs student athletes are subjected to as a result of sustained injuries. 

“They will never lose a scholarship because of an injury,” Director of Sports Medicine Trent Stratton said. 

Durham confirmed that Kent State has always covered the cost of medical attention and rehabilitation for his injuries — injuries that every student pays a fraction of. 

Student fees are the athletic program’s largest source of income, with 5.5 percent of each student’s tuition going directly to the athletic department in 2012. About $24.8 million was spent on athletic expenses including travel, equipment and student aid in 2013 and football expenses evened out to more than $5.1 million — making it the most expensive men’s athletic program offered at Kent State.

Nearly $240,000 of the total operating budget is spent on across the board medical expenses and insurance premiums for all student athletes, according to Kent State records. Medical expenses are broken down by individual students and not by each sport and according to Kent State officials, there is no record documenting football medical expenses alone.

 Kent State allows students to use personal insurance to cover injuries if preferred. 

More than $400,000 worth of insurance claims were documented by the athletics department for all sports last year, which after adjustments equates to more than 21 percent covered by the department and university insurance combined. Still, parental insurance covered more than 22 percent of this total. 

Durham said his injury taught him the importance of independent research and caution — two things he said weren’t emphasized enough during practices and seminars. For example, he now has first-hand experience of the potential adverse effects that banned contact, such as the helmet-to-helmet banned by the NFL, can impose. 

Helmet-to-helmet contact involves two parties colliding head-first with a degree of force during a play, increasing the possibility of head and spine injuries.

Durham’s concussion wasn’t exceptionally serious — he spent some time in a dimly lit room and rested — but he said the only education he received about concussions was during his freshman year when someone spoke with players about the risks. He said the university could do more to educate players about the greater uncertainty of playing college-level football. 

“They told you, but they didn’t really harp on it. They didn’t really go into detail,” he said.

Suggestions for preventing sports-related injuries:

  • Maintain fitness. Be sure you are in good physical condition at the start of football season. During the off-season, stick to a balanced fitness program that incorporates aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility. If you are out of shape at the start of the season, gradually increase your activity level and slowly build back up to a higher fitness level.
  • Pre-season physical. All players should have a pre-season physical to determine their readiness to play and uncover any condition that may limit participation.
  • Warm up and stretch. Always take time to warm up and stretch, especially your hips, knees, thighs and calves. Research studies have shown that cold muscles are more prone to injury. Warm up with jumping jacks, running or walking in place for three to five minutes. Then slowly and gently stretch, holding each stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Cool down and stretch. Stretching at the end of practice is too often neglected because of busy schedules. Stretching can help reduce muscle soreness and keep muscles long and flexible. Be sure to stretch after each training practice to reduce your risk for injury.
  • Hydrate. Even mild levels of dehydration can hurt athletic performance. If you have not had enough fluids, your body will not be able to effectively cool itself through sweat and evaporation. A general recommendation is to drink 24 ounces of non-caffeinated fluid two hours before exercise. Drinking an additional eight ounces of water or sports drink right before exercise is also helpful. While you are exercising, break for an eight ounce cup of water every 20 minutes

According to the Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons

According to the College Football Assistance Fund, 10 percent of all college football players sustain brain injuries and are six times as likely to sustain new injuries. Players are also at a higher risk of long-term brain damage even if they don’t experience a concussion.

Stratton is responsible for treating and rehabilitating sports-related injuries. He said the most common injuries he treats are acute, or temporary, such as a sprain. There’s still numerous chronic, or ongoing, injuries he attends to. 

He also believes Kent State is doing enough to enforce good safety practices. He said there are presentations and informative sessions pertaining to player safety offered to student athletes, as well as a portion of each practice dedicated to the cause. 

“In the off-season, there’s a lot of attention placed on proper mechanics in the weight room while they’re lifting, trying to enforce good habits,” he said.

Football strength and conditioning coach Antoine Sharp has spent years training and years before that playing. He played football for the University of Louisville and gradually, an interest in training developed. It’s his job to draft a yearly plan for student athletes — conditioning their speed, strength and agility to make sure they’re healthy on the field. 

“It was just a passion I had in the weight room,” he said. “I loved to train and had a few opportunities to go work out with some teams but chose this path.”

Sharp said the university mandates student athletes undergo an evaluation to denote their limiting factors and address them through an individualized program that suits them, which in return helps lower the risk of injury. 

In the winter, they focus on ensuring the players are ready to play, teaching them how to decelerate and accelerate on and off the field and maintain proper mechanics so they don’t pull hamstrings and don’t sustain contact injuries.

“It’s my job to make sure these kids are ready to play,” he said. 

He’s seen more concussions than other injuries lately, he said, because it’s a contact sport. As athletes get bigger and faster, you have a collision sport. 

“It’s about the same. You’ve got your waves of broken bones, concussions, shoulder injuries — it comes in different waves,” Sharp said. 

Stratton said while the university shouldn’t overlook injury education, most football players should have a general idea of how to perform safely after years of experience. 

“At this level point, they’ve done things for however long they’ve been playing football,” he said. “Hopefully, when they get to this point — not that it should be overlooked — they have proper technique and mechanics down that have been reinforced since they’ve been playing peewee.”

Even after sustaining several injuries during Durham’s time as running back, it’s worth it to him. He said his love of the game outweighs the risks. He suggested the department bring in professionals and individuals with personal experience with injuries to personalize the impact.

“Listen to the coach, and do research yourself,” he said.

Contact Christina Suttles at [email protected].

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