Altered Brain Function: Ryan Swope and the NFL’s Concussion Culture


May 14, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Ryan Swope (19) catches the ball during organized team activities at the Cardinals Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Note: This article is a guest post, and it was written by Kevin Gerrard of

In the spring of 2013, the Arizona Cardinals’ general manager Steve Keim chose Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope as a sixth-round draft pick. Swope had a good collegiate career and a solid workout during the NFL Scouting Combine so when the Cardinals signed Swope for $405,000 per year, everyone from Keim to broadcast announcers to prominent bookmakers at major sports betting sites assumed he would be there for regular season.

However, Swope shockingly retired from football before the OTAs were even over.

The reality is that Swope was too high a risk for the Cardinals after four concussions he’d suffered at Texas A&M. During a Cardinals pre-season practice, Swope had gone in for a diving catch resulting in his head bouncing off the field and a nasty concussion. The symptoms were so severe that Swope’s doctors ultimately suggested he stop playing football all together and within days, Swope found himself the reserved-retired list.

And just a week prior, the Detroit Lions were forced to release Jahvid Best, a running back and first-round draft pick in 2010 who had also sadly never managed to recover from his own series of concussions.

The NFL has become the defendant in a number of lawsuits alleging that the league has systematically concealed the risk of concussion injury from its players. On July 10, former Cincinnati Bengals tight end Ben Utecht won a settlement from the NFL after alleging the Bengals put him back into play too quickly after he suffered a severe concussion in training camp. Not surprisingly, techt’s lawsuit and other suits are beginning to change the way NFL coaches and owners look at concussions.

What Happens During a Concussion?

Athletes who have concussions report headaches, nausea, dizziness, difficulty with balance, vision problems, sensitivity to light, low tolerance for noise and concentration problems. Coaches are now being trained to suspect concussions when players show signs like:
⦁    The appearance of being dazed
⦁    Confusion about assignment
⦁    Changes to behavior or personality
⦁    Forgetting plays
⦁    Seeming unsure of the game, the opponent or the score
⦁    Clumsy movement
⦁    Slow to answer questions
⦁    Loss of consciousness
⦁    Forgetting events before or after the hit (amnesia)

According to a study by the University of Pittsburgh, on-field amnesia is the best predictor of symptom severity after the injury.

What Happens When a Player Experiences Too Many Concussions?

If a player has difficulty recovering from a blow to the head and continues to suffer from these injuries, then he could develop post-concussion syndrome. The symptoms and neurocognitive deficits of post-concussion syndrome include:
⦁    Chronic headaches
⦁    Fatigue and poor sleep quality
⦁    Personality changes
⦁    Dizziness after quickly standing up
⦁    Personality changes including increased irritability or emotionality
⦁    Sensitivity to noise and light
⦁    Short-term memory problems, problem-solving difficulties and general academic challenges
Concussions may have also played a role in several suicides among former NFL players including Junior Seau, O.J. Murdock, Ray Easterling, Dave Duerson, Kurt Crain, Jovan Belcher and Andre Waters. Postmortem, many of these players were diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE, in addition to causing post-concussion syndrome symptoms, causes increasing motor impairment, sexual dysfunction, anxiety, aggression and suicidal ideation. Many people believe concussions are a major reason NFL players commit suicide at a rate six times higher than the national average.

What the NFL Is Doing About Concussions

NFL teams now conduct a baseline test for concussion symptoms during a player’s pre-season physical. They also instituted the use of a mandatory post-injury sideline concussion assessment tool. In 2013, the assessment tool will be available as an iPad app after being tested by a few teams in beta last year. Having the pre-season assessment compared to the post-injury assessment in real time should give doctors and trainers the ability to make better decisions about removing players from games.

Additionally, the NFL will place “neurological consultants” on the sidelines at every game. The players union had advocated for independent doctors to be on the sidelines, and they had asked that only those doctors have the authority to administer post-injury assessments and detect concussions. The players union believes that team doctors are often too busy treating other injuries to assess whether a player may have a concussion. The NFL hasn’t clarified how much authority the neurological consultant will have to remove a player from a game. However, at least the league is starting to take the problem seriously.

About the Author: Kevin Gerrard follows the NFL and makes predictions on a number of sports betting sites. For a list of the top sports betting sites, you can read more here.