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Do cheerleaders really suffer more concussions than football players?

🕐 2 min read

Ron Courson, the director of sports medicine at the University of Georgia, appeared Tuesday at a meeting of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics in Washington. The portion of the meeting at which Courson spoke dealt with student-athlete health, and he had a fairly interesting observation about concussions at Georgia while talking about the need for more preventative measures across all sports. Courson mentioned that in the last four years the University of Georgia had more concussions in cheerleading than football or women’s soccer.

There are a lot of unknowns going on here, and it doesn’t appear anyone followed up with Courson on this claim, but you have good reason to be skeptical about it.

Courson could be talking about reported, officially diagnosed concussions. During the 2011 season, for instance, the Bulldogs football team had seven reported concussions, according to CBS46 in Atlanta. In 2013, that number was four, according to a conference-by-conference concussion study compiled by Al Jazeera America. Georgia reported just one concussion in each of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, which is about close to average for a big-time college football program. Al Jazeera America found that FBS programs reported on average a little more than one concussion per season from 2013 through 2015.

But those numbers don’t take into account the unreported concussions that football players suffer during games and practices. A 2013 Harvard survey of 700 FCS players found that they reported having about six times more suspected concussions than diagnosed concussions.

And yes, cheerleaders suffer a lot of concussions, with a study published by the journal Pediatrics in December finding that they are No. 1 on the list of injuries suffered by high school cheerleaders. However, the study found “that concussion rates were significantly lower in cheerleading than all other sports combined, as well as all other girls’ sports,” according to the Chicago Tribune’s summation.

A 2013 report by CBS46 said that eight of the 52 members of the Georgia cheerleading teams suffered a concussion in 2012, compared with nine out of 125 Bulldogs football players.

To be fair, Georgia is trying to do its part to help athletes better understand concussions. In February, the school announced it would be using a three-year, $400,000 grant from the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense to conduct a study that intends to find ways to reduce the stigma surrounding concussions so athletes more readily report them.

“The problem is, athletes are unwilling to report concussions because they’re worried about compromising their status on the team,” Welch Suggs, an associate professor at Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, told the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “We’re trying to work with the athletes and the people surrounding them to make concussion reporting less of a threat.”

Courson will be part of the research team.

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