Professional Concussion Culture: Troy Polamalu

If you are at all tuned into sports you undoubtedly heard Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers be uncomfortably candid about concussions. Polamalu has been upfront on this issue before and as we highlighted the issue is with the professional athlete; the ones informed and being paid large amounts of money to provide a service.

I would say that I really don’t have an issue with these comments;

“There’s so much built up about team camaraderie and sacrifice, and football is such a tough man’s game,” Polamalu told the Dan Patrick Show. “I think that’s why it’s so popular, why so many blue-collar communities and people feel really attracted to it, because it’s sort of a blue-collar struggle that football players go through in terms of the physicality of the game and the commitment you need. … It’s that commitment you need to play football. You feel sore, you’re beat up, you’re injured, you’re legitimately injured, most people may take three months off to work in an office, we choose to play the next week.”

Nor do I take an exception to Polamalu saying he has lied to stay on the field, that is the culture of football; which I feel is OK for professionals, only. The issue is that this information trickles down and any degree

of separation from the professional level downward is a problem. There is ABSOLUTELY NO REASON for adolescents or kids to emulate this type of behavior, especially if they have informed parents and coaches.

The issue I do have with Polamalu’s ascertain that he knows at what threshold a brain injury becomes a concussion;

“When you get your bell rung they consider that a concussion — I wouldn’t … If that is considered a concussion, I’d say any football player at least records 50 to 100 concussions a year.”

“Bell rung” is exactly what a concussion is, disruption of normal brain function. If your brain does not normally just create blurred vision, ringing in the ears, or fogginess just walking around; then these type of symptoms – especially after a traumatic event – would and should indicate that it is actually a concussion. In the last part of the statement he highlighted the issue with the NFL and its players going forward. Each player may get upward of 50 concussions a year – no wonder we are seeing more and more evidence of CTE and other neurodegenerative problems.

Perhaps Polamalu should re-examine or look back at what he said back in December; he has probably forgotten – a sign of brain health issues.

9 thoughts on “Professional Concussion Culture: Troy Polamalu

  1. Robert A. Arnone, D.C. July 19, 2012 / 10:48

    The neurocognitive testing that is done for NFL players is not a safe way to go about this epidemic of head-neck injuries. There is a physical component to this that can be visualized, measured and more importantly – Corrected. It is a matter of time before the NFL and NFLPA realizes this and makes the appropriate changes that are necessary to secure the safety of our athletes as well as the future of the League.

    • joe bloggs July 19, 2012 / 16:16

      Evidence is growing that many players do suffer from undiagnosed head and neck injuries that can be treated. Hopefully, we will see more focus on addressing the issue in the next year. It is being acknowledged.

  2. jkjk jkjkjkjk July 19, 2012 / 12:34

    You spelled his name wrong.

  3. A Concerned Mom July 19, 2012 / 13:03

    In line with your comments about players getting upwards of 50 concussions a year, David Trifunov had an article at the Global Post on how Tory Polamalu adds to NFL concussion headache. Much of the media focus seems to be on the fact that Polamalu lied, but I can’t help but question if it’s possible to play football (as currently played) without having 50 or so episodes of seeing stars (or what players refer to as bell ringers). Do many players have these episodes, or are there just certain players who are more prone? And, what’s going on at the youth level? Are kids experiencing so called bell ringers on a regular basis? Youth players may not generate the same forces as the pros, yet there seems to be a number of issues which may them more susceptible to concussive injuries.

    On a side issue, what’s the generally acceptable definition of concussion … (a) is it a temporary functional injury allowing for full recovery, (b) is it a functional injury with structural damage that may not be evident with current imaging technology, that result in functional recovery, with greater susceptibility to future injuries with cumulative deficits, or (c) is it an injury somewhere along a spectrum between (a) and (b), where depending on the forces involved, it may either be only a functional injury or one including structural damage?

  4. joe bloggs July 19, 2012 / 16:14

    I have my doubts any NFL player is suffering from 50 to 100 concussions a year. Players are suggesting that having would could be characterized as electrical disturbances in the brain as consistent with a concussion (probably a sub-concussion in most cases). The definition of a concussion while not uniformly does imply a metabolic event in the brain (a chemical cascade that temporarily alters glucose metabolism). This event is likely to result in some damage and a functional recovery (this is beyond current technology to identify). Remember since the brain has no backup and is the most critical organ body it is evolved for preservation and has reserves to draw upon. That is, it is plastic and can reroute function drawing on resources undamaged in the brain.

    Most sports concussion if the subject is treated appropriately should not result in long-term neurodegenerative disease. In Polamalu case, he probably has suffered multiple concussion not only in a single season but also in a single game. He has also returned to play too quickly (His launching technique to hit opponents is dangerous in itself). If he has certain genetic predispositions (still being researched but ApOE4 is not a great one to carry) or there is a family history of depression, addiction, severe mental illness or neurodegenerative disease (Parkinson’s, AD. ALS etc.) he it taking a serious risk that is likely to result in a bad outcome.

    The real question is how is Polamalu being served by team doctors. Of course Urlacher and Polamalu and other stars are going to play through, they know no better. The doctors are their to treat and consul these guys and they just seem to not care. Polamalu was obviously injured in several games last year and stayed out there. He should have been pulled and put in a dark room and allowed to recover.

    At some point players are going to need outside advice from people not in the machine and may be from former stars who have left blood on the field to help these guys realize whatever short-term gain is not worth the risk.

    • A Concerned Mom July 19, 2012 / 17:57

      Thank you for clarifying. I don’t think Polamalu is the first to suggest that some players experience multiple star producing hits in a game. There’s so much that still isn’t known yet, but often I read or hear things that are red flags for me (indicators that more research needs to be done, and quickly, to avoid current professional and youth athletes from developing problems).

  5. Glenn Beckmann July 20, 2012 / 10:42

    If the suggestion is that “seeing stars” is a concussive episode, it’s probably best to reconsider. You can see stars from sneezing, bumping your head on a shelf, etc. We’ve all experienced these types of sensations and recover from them within a matter of seconds.

    If you’re talking about something more substantial than that, you should probably be more specific about what you’re referring to.

    • A Concerned Mom July 20, 2012 / 11:41

      Polamalu and Plummer used the term “stars.” In articles that came out shortly after Seau’s death, Plummer said that according to a concussion seminar he attended a number of years ago, he was told a Grade 1 concussion meant you were seeing “stars” after a hit. He claimed it was possible to have 5 of these each game and suggested Seau might have suffered over 1,000 concussions (“1,000 concussions” brings up the articles on this in google).

      Earlier this morning I read an article in the Camarillo Acorn about a high school soccer player who battled many hardships to earn a Division I soccer scholarship. She claims to have had 2 major concussions and 3 to 4 minor concussions. She also stated that she suffers from “aftershocks” and splitting headaches.

      Although I hit my head a number of times growing up (skiing, ice/roller skating, riding), I can only recall two times when I actually saw stars. Personally, I wouldn’t compare sneezing to those two events. Those two events seemed like a brief electrical shock, but as far as I can tell I didn’t have any symptoms afterwards.

      I do agree that it is important to use specific terminology – I just think there is still a lot of confusion about how to categorize these episodes. Both Polamalu and Plummer seemed to be saying that if seeing “stars” was a concussion, then they get a significant number of concussions each season. Perhaps athletes need clearer information about what constitutes a concussive event versus a sub concussive event, and whether or not they need to be concerned about suffering many sub concussive events.

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