ROCKFORD (WREX) –Dakota High School head coach Joe Free knows what it’s like to take a hit on the football field.
“When I was playing we had the stupid cliches, you got your bell rung, get back in there you’ll be there all right,” said Free.
Back then, Free says he played through the pain. Now, there’s one thing he doesn’t mess around with concussions.
“You don’t want to play around with brain injuries,” said Free.
And it’s not just Coach Free.
Startling new research shows the effects repeated concussions can have on these players. Researchers studied the brains of 202 deceased football players of all ages and skill sets. They found 177 of those players had the the degenerative brain disease known as CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
“It’s microscopic trauma to the brain,” said MercyHealth Sports Medicine physician Dr. Brian Michalsen.
The study didn’t stop there, it also looked at the brains of younger players. And found this kind of trauma starts as early as high school.
“As a child or a player has more than three, four or five concussions during their playing careers are things like prolonged headaches, concentration issues, memory issues,” said Dr. Michalsen.
Dr. Michalsen works with student athletes here in Rockford. He says most of the concussions he sees are football players.
“More and more parents are asking me should i let my child play football?”
His answer is the same as Coach Free, “It’s a question I think only parents and their kids can answer. Your life is much more important, your career is way more important than one injury right here that you try to play through.”
A decision coaches and doctors agree can have a big impact on these young lives.
From 2010 to 2016, the Illinois High School Association received just under 2,000 reports of students who were removed from a game because of a head injury.
Of those, more than 1,500 athletes did not return to the field because of medical concern.
To watch the original segment, CLICK HERE.