#tbt: Eye Opener from 2012: Was it overlooked?


Originally titled “Bombshell Found in Sports Illustrated Vault” this post appeared on July 4, 2012…  To this day, it may be one of the most poignant articles I have written about the road we have been down.  I believe that this post still rings true, two years later, in regards to all the information we knew that we didn’t know…  

Considering where – 2014 – and what has transpired – League of Denial – this article may have been glossed over and was WAY AHEAD OF ITS TIME from SI.  I often find myself wondering why we are not learning from the past to make proactive measures going forward…

Enjoy the read from the past (excellent RT @protectthebrain);

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Thanks to @ConcernedMom9 I was sent an article from Sports Illustrated written by Michael Farber.  Before I tell you the year and provide the link I want so share some quotes from it;

“People are missing the boat on brain injuries,” says Dr. James P. Kelly, director of the brain-injury program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and an assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Medical School. “It isn’t just cataclysmic injury or death from brain injuries that should concern people. The core of the person can change from repeated blows to the head.

“I get furious every time I watch a game and hear the announcers say, ‘Wow, he really got his bell rung on that play.’ It’s almost like, ‘Yuk, yuk, yuk,’ as if they’re joking. Concussions are no joke.”

That sounds very similar to what we are discussing now in 2012.

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•Of the 1.5 million high school football players in the U.S., 250,000 suffer a concussion in any given season, according to a survey conducted for The American Journal of Public Health.

•A player who has already suffered a concussion is four times more likely to get one than a player who has been concussion-free. Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and defensive backs are most vulnerable, […] that special teams players were at the highest risk per minute spent on the field.

•Concussions are underreported at all levels of football. This is partly because of the subtlety of a mild concussion (unless a player is as woozy as a wino, the injury might go undetected by a busy trainer or coach) but primarily because players have bought into football’s rub-dirt-on-it ethos. “If we get knocked in the head, it’s embarrassing to come to the sideline and say, ‘Hey, my head’s feeling funny,’ ” says San Francisco 49er quarterback Steve Young, who has suffered at least a half dozen concussions. “So I’m sure we’re denying it.”

•Football’s guidelines for players returning after concussions are sometimes more lenient than boxing’s. The New Jersey Boxing Commission requires a fighter who is knocked out to wait 60 days and submit to an electroencephalogram (EEG) before being allowed back into the ring.

•According to Ken Kutner, a New Jersey neuropsychologist, postconcussion syndrome is far more widespread than the NFL or even those suffering from the syndrome would lead us to believe. […] Kutner says that the players fear that admitting to postconcussion syndrome might cost them a job after retirement from football.

Hmmm, we all thought this was information new to us – new being 2008.

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That, however, doesn’t console Lawrence and Irene Guitterez of Monte Vista, Colo. “He just thought it was something trivial,” Irene says of her son, Adrian, who was a running back on the Monte Vista High team three years ago. “He had a headache and was sore, but it seemed like cold symptoms. He wasn’t one to complain. He wouldn’t say anything to anybody. He wanted to play in the Alamosa game.”

He did play. At halftime Guitterez, who had suffered a concussion in a game two weeks before and had not yet shaken the symptoms, begged teammates not to tell the coaches how woozy he felt. When he was tackled early in the third quarter, he got up disoriented and then collapsed. Five days later he died.

Years later another Colorado high school football player, Jake Snakenberg, would unfortunately repeat history; leading to the concussion legislation passed in that state.

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Do you have a guess on the year…

1994

Farber and Sports Illustrated may have unknowingly created a timeline for which we all can look back on and decide if enough was being done 18 years ago.  And why did it take so long?  The quotes don’t end there, just see below for some very peculiar information.  Early on the discussion was about the NOW DEFUNCT grading of concussions; the overall theme was that consensus of this brain injury was difficult at best, yet we are still plagued with it today.  As for the injury, it is an inherent risk of the profession/sport as this now criticized – former NFL – doctor said;

“Concussions are part of the profession, an occupational risk,” says Elliot J. Pellman, the Jets’ team doctor. A football player, he says, is “like a steelworker who goes up 100 stories, or a soldier.”

I think we all, including those that choose to play, understand and accept that; however the question is/was what were you doing to inform the players of this risk and how it could shape their lives?  Was the league and the sport doing enough to make sure further damage was not happening?  In respect to the litigation; was there any information being provided about the dangers of this injury?

The next bit of information may be very telling to me and our concussion tracking of the NFL.  Finding information about the past and this injury is so buried and inaccurate its it nearly like climbing Mount Everest to find and analyze it.  Farber did get enough information from the league in this article for us to make an observation;

League spokesman Greg Aiello says preliminary numbers for 1994 are in line with statistics on concussions for the past five years. According to data supplied by the 28 teams, 445 concussions were suffered by 341 players between 1989 and 1993. That is about four concussions per weekend, or 2.5 concussions for every 1,000 plays. On Dec. 9, Pellman, Dr. Andy Tucker of the Cleveland Browns and Dr. Ira Casson, a New York neurologist, met with league officials, including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, to discuss concussions and suggest ways to cut down on their frequency. No concrete proposals were adopted.

Based on our data collection concussions have risen from 4/weekend to 10/weekend in a 20 year span.  That would be a 150% increase in concussions; surely some of that is due to awareness, however there is NO DOUBTING that concussions have been on the rise.  Even Farber credited that to athletes getting bigger, faster and stronger; thus eliciting more forces during action that is getting to the brain (as we have argued here).  Look at this list of prominent players in 1994:

  • Troy Aikman (QB)
  • Dave Brown (QB)
  • Chris Chandler (QB)
  • Jeff Hostetler (QB)
  • David Klingler (QB)
  • Chris Miller (QB)
  • Vinny Testaverde (QB)
  • Jack Trudeau (QB)
  • Steve Wallace (OT)
  • Jeff Lageman (DE)
  • Ronnie Lott (DB)
  • Mark Collins (DB)
  • Don Beebe (WR)
  • Tom Waddle (WR)
  • Raghib Ismail (WR)
  • Rob Moore (WR)
  • Merril Hoge, a fullback for the Chicago Bears, quit on Oct. 17 after suffering two concussions in six weeks.

Troy Aikman was quoted about his recent (in 1994) concussions after a quote from Joseph Maroon that is certainly not the case today;

“Think of a concussion as the lights going out,” says Dr. Joseph C. Maroon, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh and a consultant to the Steelers. “Sometimes it’s insignificant, just like a bulb dimming for an instant. Does a very mild concussion need to be reported? Probably not.”

A concussion occurs when axons and their synaptic connections—the fibers that transmit impulses away from the brain’s neurons—are stretched or distorted by a blow to or a sudden movement of the head. When these fibers have been mildly affected, mental awareness can return in seconds or minutes. If axons are severely stretched or even sheared, the lights go out and no one will be home for a while.

“To this day I don’t recall playing in the [1993 NFC] championship game at all, and I don’t think I ever will,” says Aikman, who got a concussion in that game and has suffered two more concussions this season. “Last season’s Super Bowl isn’t real clear. I remember playing and being there, but what happened during the game isn’t clear to me.”

I think we are all in agreement that EVERY concussion is brain injury and should be treated as such.  Look at the example above, is it really a good thing that the “lights were out” for Aikman?  The man has no memory of a game and limited memory of very huge game in his career.  As Farber tells us these are things that Al Toon deals with after football.

Another set of quotes really caught my eye on how times have changed, or at least I am hoping no one shares the belief of the last quote any more;

Take this question: Do concussions have a cumulative effect?

The answers: “Definitely” (Kelly), “Possibly” (Maroon) and “I know of no football player who has had residual neurological impairment from repeated insults to the head” (Joe Torg, the Eagles’ team doctor). Torg says that boxing’s punch-drunk syndrome doesn’t apply to football, because rarely is a football player knocked unconscious.

As if 1994 was a prelude to our current times, Farber gets Toon to discuss some demons; possibly the same demons that are haunting some of the former players now (bolded for emphasis);

“You can see on the tapes the difference in force of the blows [that caused my concussions],” says Toon. “Each new concussion came from less of a blow, and recovery time increased. The last one, against Denver [Nov. 8, 1992], was hardly direct contact.” After that concussion, Toon retreated to a dark room for six weeks, turned into a recluse and even contemplated suicide. He never played again.

The final part of the article sums all of this up, even today;

The virtual absence of brain testing is one of “the things that lead to the current problems,” Kelly says. “I don’t think most athletes want to know the effect an injury has had or the amount they’ve recovered, and I don’t think most pro or college teams want their athletes scrutinized that way. They’re not in the business of identifying worrisome neurological problems.

“I hope another player doesn’t have to die before all this is taken seriously.”

It was there, were we listening?

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