BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Tyler Watts began a discussion today by setting a ground rule.
“Don’t ask me if I’ve had a concussion,” the former Pelham High and University of Alabama quarterback said. “I’ve never had a concussion. I’ve had my bell rung.”
Watts, of course, was joking.
“There is no difference,” he said. “It’s an educated person versus an
uneducated person. Or one that wanted to play versus one who knew he’d have to come out if he had a concussion.”
Watts was among the people who appeared today at the Cutting Edge Concussion Summit at Children’s of Alabama. Athletic trainers, doctors and sports administrators were on various panels, as were athletes who had experienced concussions, or have seen the effects of this injury.
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Among the athletes were Watts, former Hoover High and Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson and former Briarwood Christian High, college and professional soccer player Cat Whitehill.
“When you’re 16, 18, 22 years old, you think you’re invincible,” Watts said.
“You don’t think beyond the next hour, the next week, the next year. When you get to be my age, 35, you start to second guess all the decisions that you’ve made in your life. Some of the ailments that you’re feeling now may be the result of some of those things that you did to your body back when you were younger.”
Wilson said he has experienced “quite a few” concussions. The worse, he said, was one he got as a pro football player.
“I didn’t remember it until I watched it on film,” he said. “It was a preseason game, we were playing the Miami Dolphins. I had a hard play-action pass and never saw the guy coming. It really happened when my head hit the turf and whiplashed back. I was pretty much out of it and don’t remember a whole lot.”
Wilson was uncertain there is much one can do to avoid a concussion.
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“The best thing you can do is not try to come back too early,” he said. “You’ve just got to be honest with the trainers. They have all these protocols but it’s really up to the player, the individual to answer the questions honest. Everybody wants to get back out there and play but you’ve got to be honest with yourself and the doctors.”
Whitehill said while she has not experienced a major concussion, she has a friend who has had over 20 – five major and 20 minor,” the former Catherine Reddick said. “I have a friend who had to retire from the National Team because of concussions from the keeper punching her in the head.”
Whitehill said a key to avoiding concussions is learning the correct way to perform the various skills of a sport. She cited the soccer skill of heading the ball.
“I think a lot of the reason for the amount of concussions and how major they are is because people don’t have proper form,” she said. “Especially in the women’s game, heading is our weakest link. A lot of times, we hit on the top of the head rather than the forehead. It’s a lot safer to hit it there.
“If you attack the ball, you limit how much force there is from the ball coming to your head,” the defender said. “At North Carolina, we would constantly work on our form. I think that’s so important for people to learn exactly how to head the ball.”
Watts echoed a similar sentiment about playing football.
“You can’t play football scared,” he said. “But you also shouldn’t be scared of concussions. It’s about form and doing things the right way. Realize it’s a contact sport and bad things sometimes happen. I think a lot of people now are scared to death of concussions. You’ve just got to be smart about it and make sure you’re not putting yourself in a bad situation.”