Matt Edwards / Multimedia editor
Former Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat made national headlines when he walked away from an opportunity to play in the NFL on May 14, less than three weeks after signing with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent. He cited concussion symptoms as his reason to step away from the game.
Sweat made the decision that playing professional football was not worth risking his long-term health.
“I had three (concussions) at Ohio State,” Sweat told The Lantern. “I still was having symptoms – it was very scary. It’s not something that you experience often. You’re slowed down, you can’t think as well, it’s tough.”
The link between football and head injuries has been reported and discussed often by the media and scientists who determine causes of head injuries while researching the risks and ways to prevent brain damage.
Sweat said one of the symptoms he dealt with was depression.
“Your mind’s just not right,” Sweat said. “I’ve never been depressed in my life but I mean, I was depressed in the spring because of my concussion. It’s definitely scary.”
Dr. Paul Gubanich is a team physician for OSU Sports Medicine and an assistant clinical professor of internal medicine at OSU. Gubanich previously worked with professional football players as a member of the Cleveland Browns’ medical staff from 2004-2010.
Gubanich told The Lantern that the link between athletes with concussions and depression is “something that we’re seeing more and more,” but head injuries are not necessarily the reason for their depression.
“The truth is that we see (depression in athletes with concussions),” Gubanich said. “The underlying cause of that is not necessarily clear. The question becomes, is that actually a symptom of a concussion or is that a symptom of some other underlying process? The fact that they’re being treated for a chronic condition, that they’re removed from certain activities … We’re taking an athlete out of their normal environment – a young, healthy, vibrant person – and we’re changing their everyday activity.”
A 2007 study in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, an official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, investigated the link between concussions and depression. This study, which was led by Kevin Guskiewicz, the chair of University of North Carolina’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science, said he found that retired professional football players who had three or more concussions in their playing careers were three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than players who had no history of concussions.
Sweat said he met with Dr. Michael “Micky” Collins, the clinical and executive director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, and was cleared to play.
Due to patient privacy reasons, Collins declined The Lantern’s request for comment.
Sweat, who is set to graduate from OSU this spring with a degree in marketing, said he will attend graduate school to pursue a career in law or medical sales.
OSU athletic director Gene Smith, who told The Lantern in October 2010 that he suffered two concussions during his playing days, thinks Sweat is making the right decision.
“I’m actually glad Andrew Sweat is going to law school,” Smith said during a Tuesday interview with The Lantern. “He’s a smart kid … he had a couple of tough concussions.”
Sweat is only one of multiple players who have made the move in the past few weeks to give up their professional football careers due to concussion risks.
Chad Diehl, a former Clemson fullback who signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent following the draft, retired on May 16. According to the Spartanburg Herald Journal, Diehl wrote on his Facebook page that he suffered another concussion in rookie mini-camp.
“The doctor and I came into agreement that it would be in my best interest for my football career to go ahead and come to an end,” Diehl added.
Eight-year NFL veteran guard Jacob Bell made the same decision earlier this month. Bell, who had signed with the Cincinnati Bengals as a free agent, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his decision “came down to risk and reward.” Like Sweat and Diehl, Bell decided that the risk of long-term brain damage from concussion was not worth the reward of playing professional football.
Gubanich said it is important for football players and other athletes in collision contact sports to understand the risks of their sport.
“I wish (Sweat) the best,” Gubanich said. “I feel bad for these athletes … obviously some of them do know the risk, and I think our job is to help get the message out there and to try and help manage these situations to the best that we can, but there’s still a lot of awareness and education that needs to be done at multiple levels.”