WALNUT CREEK -- When Honor Jackson played in the NFL, most players didn't refer to head-jarring hits as concussions, or imagine that the impacts could permanently damage their brains.

But now research has shown that concussions, if not treated properly or repeated, can cause traumatic brain injuries that at the very least can cause dizziness, memory loss and an inability to concentrate, and may later lead to more severe physical and mental limitations.

"We used to call it a little buzz, or a few dings," said Jackson, a defensive back for the New York Giants and New England Patriots in the 1970s. "We used to really laugh when somebody got the snot got knocked out of them. When somebody was laid out on the ground, I felt great. But now, I realize they were hurt."

In response to recent studies that revealed more than 140,000 student athletes each year suffer concussions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a fact sheet to help teachers understand the effects of a concussion and help students recover by easing their workload and schedule. The new prevention and treatment guidelines are being distributed to high schools nationwide.

Reps. George Miller, D-Martinez, and Timothy Bishop, D-N.Y., also introduced new federal legislation this week that would set minimum safety standards for concussion management in public schools with plans to educate students, parents and school staff in recognizing and responding to concussions.

A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate in September.


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Miller joined Jackson, sports trainers, federal health officials and Northgate High School students and faculty at the school Friday to highlight the campus's concussion prevention and treatment efforts, which include training students in the school's sports medicine program how to recognize the head injuries.

The National Athletic Trainers Association presented the school with a Safe Sports School Award for its program.

Jackson told students that when he played football, he sometimes got "knocked silly," but he didn't call such injuries "concussions." He explained the importance of recognizing the signs of a concussion and said athletes should stop playing until they have recovered.

"Make sure when you're my age, that you can remember who you are," said the 65-year-old, a star at the University of the Pacific who grew up in Marin City. "We know that a concussion can affect you the rest of your life."

One way to minimize concussions is to tackle with your eyes open, keeping your head up and grabbing the person, not putting your head down and leaning into the person like a projectile, he said.

"If you can't see it," Jackson said, "it's a bad tackle."

Northgate sports medicine teacher Glen Barker said about 25 student athletes have received concussions in all sports since August. All student athletes are given concussion impact tests before the season begins, then reassessed after a head injury to compare the results, which helps family doctors assess the athlete's condition, Barker said.

Student football trainer Riley Barnes, 17, said he and others in the school's sports medicine program watch players closely after they are hit on the field to assess whether they have concussions and help them off the field and through rehab if they do. Before a student can return to action, the sports medicine program also puts athletes through a battery of physical exertion tests to make sure they are physically ready, said student trainer Monica Cunanan, 17.

Miller praised Northgate's program and said other schools can learn from it.

"Northgate is like the vanguard," Miller said. "It creates an atmosphere where these kids, if they're injured, don't have to put up a front. The pressure on kids is so great to keep playing if they're hurt. But evidence shows that is dangerous."

MORE INFORMATION
Additional details about concussions are available at www.cdc.go/concussion.
To see video from the Northgate High event, go to www.contracostatimes.com.