During the second game of the season, one UA football player got his first concussion after playing football since sixth grade. He missed two games because of his concussion but returned for the Texas A&M game while still displaying symptoms.
“I didn’t want to miss the Texas A&M game, so I kind of finessed my way around the protocol and got cleared to play in the A&M,” said Colton Jackson, a senior and offensive lineman who retired after the Oct. 19 game. “But I still had a concussion during the A&M game, and it made it worse.”
Jackson said he passed all of the tests necessary to return to play, including word memorization tests, a balance test, a vision test and TRAZER, a computer-based simulation program. However, he still had bad headaches. Jackson played for the entirety of the A&M game, which he said was difficult.
“To me, the reason I tried to push through was because I didn’t want my headache to prevent me from playing,” Jackson said.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head, which makes the brain bounce or twist inside of the skull, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
“With a concussion, you don’t really look at the real seriousness of it,” Jackson said. “You don’t look at what it does to your brain. You just feel the side effects.”
Long-term effects of concussions include trouble concentrating, memory problems, irritability and other personality changes, sensitivity to light and noise, sleep disturbances, depression and other psychological problems and disorders of smell and taste.
To return to games, athletes must not show any symptoms, complete a return-to-activity plan, be at or above their previous baseline testing and tolerate exertional protocol without returning symptoms, according to Arkansas Athletics.
“When you get hurt, the protocol for injuries is so long for any injury, you don’t even want to tell the trainers that you’re hurt,” Jackson said.
Student-athletes, their parents or guardians, coaches, the team physician and other officials are required to sign a form noting they understand the requirement to immediately report concussion symptoms to the UA Sports Medicine staff, according to Arkansas Athletics.
Student-athlete and their parents or guardians must also sign a release acknowledging that helmets cannot prevent serious head or neck injuries while participating in football, according to Arkansas Athletics.
Jackson retired after the Oct. 19 game because of problems from an injury-related back surgery he had in 2018. Jackson said that he rushed through recovery because he did not want to miss the season.
After spending the off-season in rehabilitation from his surgery, Jackson returned to play three weeks earlier than expected.
“You only get 12 opportunities each season to – basically how coaches put it – build your resume,” Jackson said.
The ultimate goal for many players is to get to the NFL and get to the next level, Jackson said. Every game builds players’ resumes, and missing games takes away from that.
When someone has a concussion, Jackson said that his teammates will say things like, “Oh, you just have a headache. You’re fine.”
De’Vion Warren, a junior and a wide receiver for the football team, has had two concussions while playing with the Razorbacks.
“We just try to make sure that their morale is not low, because for some people when they get hurt, football is the only thing they do,” Warren said. “So, once that’s taken from them they just have to sit back and wait to get better.”
“That’s what you think at the same time and you’re like what do I look like just missing a game because I have a headache and what do I look like missing a game just because I threw up a few times,” Jackson said.
If players have different injuries, such as sprains or a broken bone, or have a boot or a sling, they have “something to show for it” compared to a concussion, Jackson said.
“You want to play through what you can play through, and in most cases that’s good,” Jackson said. “But, in a lot of cases that’s not good to do for your body and your brain.”
A representative for the Office for Sport Concussion Research was not available to comment.