Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Concussion Crisis

I am going to interrupt the joyous frivolity of Football Week 2011 to jump on my soap box for just a second to talk about concussions and football (and hockey).

I know that both football and hockey are fast, very physical sports, but if both of these leagues do not get a serious handle on head injuries, there will be more and more tragedies, of which we have seen too many already.

(Photo from The New Yorker article, How different are Dogfighting and Football? Full story here.)

But even before we can address concussions in the NFL and the NHL, it has to be addressed in the pee wee football and youth hockey leagues. The only way to truly protect these players in the long run is to change the culture from the very beginning.

As an avid Notre Dame and Blues fan, the head injury issue has hit very close to home. First, the tragic death of Dave Duerson early this year. According to reports from ESPN (full story here), " ... Mr. Duerson's family has agreed to donate his brain to the CSTE at BU School of Medicine," Nowinski said in an e-mail. The CSTE, Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a collaborative venture between Boston University's Medical School and the Sports Legacy Institute, who are addressing what it calls the "concussion crisis" in sports. The group has been at the forefront of head trauma in sports research and has received a $1 million gift from the NFL, which it has pushed for better treatment of concussions.

Fast forward to August of this year, and yet another member of the Notre Dame family has an incident related back to football head injuries. Former Notre Dame defensive coach Corwin Brown was removed from his house with a self-inflicted gun shot wound, after a seven-hour police standoff. ESPN reports quoted the family as saying (full story here), "... they believe he may suffer from the same type of brain trauma as Dave Duerson, the former Chicago Bears star who committed suicide in February."

Now, take the Blues hockey player, David Perron. As reported by Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat (full story here), Perron is still not cleared to practice. The St. Louis Blues are scheduled to begin training camp on September 16th, and at this point Perron is not even on the radar screen. Blues GM Doug Armstrong reports, "He's making progress, but he's not symptom-free -- and until he gets to that point and can get into his training, we're still with the status quo. He hasn't done any weightlifting or maintenance of his muscle mass for his upper or lower body. He's gone almost eight or nine months without training, so when the concussion symptoms subside he's going to have to get back into conditioning and strength training." (You can catch Norm on Twitter at @NormSanders)

And as if all of this wasn't enough ... Sidney Crosby may not start for the Penguins until Christmas, and rumors are flying that Peyton Manning's "neck injury" is really a concussion/brain injury ... and nothing to do with any sort of neck surgery/injury.

How many life altering injuries must these players suffer before someone takes notice?

I know that football (and hockey) is a fast and physical game, but if these players, their coaches, agents and team owners do not start making a serious effort towards protecting their immediate and long term health, there will be even more needless tragedies. I'm not exactly sure what the fix is, but there are plenty of suggestions out there. Some of the ideas I've seen kicked around include: make the helmets and the protection better, eliminate head shots during games and when head shots do happen, enforce them better with stricter penalties. And how about starting at the beginning, educate parents and athletes better as to the dangers of head injuries and the dire implications to their future health.

I spoke with Lou Korac this week, to get his point of view on the concussion crisis, and he brings up some very valid points as well. "Truthfully, athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever before. In a contact sport like hockey/football, these bigger/stronger bodies making an impact with the opponent have done more damage to that upper-body area because as your mid and lower bodies get bigger, the head/neck is one area that will always be vulnerable. You are seeing safer equipment being made, more padding in helmets to help alleviate the impact/soften the blows. That is a good first step. And most importantly, players simply have to respect their opponent when in comes to vulnerable contact areas. While hockey (and football) is a contact sport, there's no rhyme nor reason for someone to go in high and hard on a vulnerable opponent. Until that gets cleaned up, you're going to see more David Perron/Marc Savard type injuries." (You can catch Lou Korac on Twitter at @lkorac10, or on the web at http://www.lkorac10.blogspot.com/)

Okay, well I guess that's enough of my soap box. Unfortunately, I cannot fix this, and there really is no overnight to fix for this either. I just hope that someone sees the urgency of this situation, and makes some positive changes for the sake of the players and their health.

Stay tuned ... tomorrow's Football Week 2011 post will be written by my friend and fellow blogger, JR Reed, from Sex & the Single Dad!


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