Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More on concussions, criminal charges

Sadly, kids and sports injuries seem to be at the top of the news this week.

NPR's Talk of the Nation aired a pointed discussion on the Louisville prep coach charged in the death of the young player who died from heat stroke. Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights, the Grapes of Wrath of youth sports books, was one of the guests and let's just say it's a good thing for the accused coach that Buzz won't be sitting on the jury. The other guest was Antoinette "Toni" Konz, education reporter for The Louisville Courier-Journal who explained that rather than rush to judgment, the prosecutors actually showed great restraint. Their investigation went on for months before they presented their case - which apparently included numerous accounts of the coach denying water to his players - to a grand jury - .

Then there was the report released yesterday further establishing the link between concussions suffered by football players - mostly NFL players, but not all - and early onset dementia.

The headline from that story as it will be reported in most places is that six former NFL players are now known to have died early from a degenerative brain disease caused by head trauma, the latest being Tom McHale, a former Tampa Bay Buc. The report goes on to say that for the first time evidence of the same brain condition has been discovered in an 18-year-old boy "who suffered multiple concussions in high school football."

From a press release issued by the Boston University School of Medicine:

"The discovery of the initial stages of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy)in an 18-year-old should move the discussion of football's concussion crisis toward youth football. The identity of the 18-year-old will not be revealed at the family's request. According to Cantu [Robert Cantu, MD, chief of Neurosurgery and director of Sports Medicine at Emerson Hospital in
Concord, Mass and a study co-author], "Our efforts to educate athletes, coaches, and parents on the need to identify and rest concussions have only been moderately
successful because people have been willing to look the other way when a
child suffers a concussion. I hope the discovery of CTE in a child creates the urgency this issue needs. It is morally and ethically wrong to allow our children to voluntarily suffer this kind of brain trauma
without taking the simple educational steps needed to protect them."

It's comforting to think that the answer is education. If the coaches and parents understood the risks, they wouldn't be putting the star quarterback who'd just had his bell rung back into the game. Comforting because if the fix were that simple, these injuries could be reduced or even eliminated within a matter of months or, worst case, years. It isn't that simple.


Andrea Grazzini Walstrom said...

Mark is correct that the solution to the concussion crisis in football isn't more talk, it is action.

A lot of people are trying to educate parents, players and coaches with little to show for their efforts.

The solution is for youth sports leaders, parents, coaches, pediatricians, educators and policy makers to work together to demand and engage comprehensive change--something Balance4Success is working on. We are developing an initiative called Team Minnesota that will employ civic organizing methods to engage many to move from intent to action to protect youth athletes before more damage is done them.

The success of our effort will depend on whether people who care about the well-being of children are brave and committed enough to do something about it by getting involved.

It is, admittedly, an idealistic and ambitious plan. But there is hope that we can succeed. Both Minnesota and Balance4Success have a record of innovative thinking and bold action. We hope others will join our effort, or, in a mission-critical competition to see if they can beat us to real solutions.

Andrea Grazzini Walstrom

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Don't football players have better protection than ever before through better equipment? Coaches still need to use good judgement in letting kids stay hydrated and getting enough rest.