The dark side of athletics

by Scott Schleisman

There is a dark underbelly to Simpson athletics.

It’s the side effect of playing sports that any athlete would rather not get.

If an athlete does get it, he or she will try to hide it. Some walk around nervously hoping nobody will notice while some sit in class trying not to pay any attention to it.

Visible – or hidden – skin infections are an everyday, though highly unsightly, side effect of some athletic activity.

“Increased sweat and exposure to not always the most sanitary conditions cause different rashes, athlete’s foot, ringworm, jock itch and cauliflower ear,” Simpson’s nurse Michelle Cross said. “I don’t see very many cases because I think that many athletes may try to take care of [fungi] themselves.”

Trying to take care of skin conditions alone may not always be the best idea. If an athlete has a weak immune system, the diseases can sink below the skin and cause serious damage.

Serious damage may also happen to an athlete’s social life if other students find out he or she has to put on a special ointment from Cross or one of the clinics she refers.

Red dots followed by a moist white color between the toes is athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot can also spread to toenails, as well as fingernails, causing them to turn brownish and crumble off.

Ringworm is another common fungus that athletes acquire. Contrary to its name, ringworm isn’t a parasite but a fungal infection. It’s called Tinea cruris when the red rash occurs in the groin. Tinea cruris is more likely to happen to men, especially if they wear unclean athletic equipment. Ringworm can infect nearly any area of the skin, including the scalp. It causes itchy red areas on the head, leaving bald patches. Wrestling is the sport most commonly associated with acquiring ringworm.

“Ringworm and cauliflower ear are two side effects of wrestling,” wrestling coach Ron Peterson said. “We clean the mats often, and we wrestle with headgear in practice, but some of the wrestlers still contract those infections.”

Peterson and the wrestling team may feel helpless because keeping Simpson clean is only half of the battle.

“Lots of wrestlers from other schools smell horrible and will use that to their advantage,” Peterson said. “Also, not very many schools require the same level of sanitation that we do here at Simpson.”

However, it’s not just wrestlers, or even athletes, that can acquire different skin infections.

“I have had a group of girls come in that needed reference to a clinic because they all contracted tinea infections,” Cross said. “We didn’t want a large outbreak, so we sat down and figured out where they got it, and realized that they all received their infections from the weight room.”

It’s actually easy to contract skin infections from weight-room equipment. If people don’t clean their benches or cardio-machines properly, the equipment becomes ideal for fungi. Sometimes it’s a week or more before the person realizes that he or she has an infection. By that time, it could easily have spread to other people.

Besides athletic equipment, communal showers tanning beds, and even pet dogs and cats can spread skin infections.