This Is Unacceptable, In My Humble Opinion

Yesterday I wrote about concussions and the difference between professionals and adolescents using Jamaal Charles as an example.  What happened last night on the professional field with millions watching was completely unacceptable, professional athlete not withstanding.

Late in the third quarter of the game, last night, San Diego’s defensive back Jahleel Addae (#37) ran into a pile to finish the tackle on the Denver running back.  He was running at full speed and led with his left shoulder, but as he made contact with the RB his head dropped and he also made (incidental) helmet to helmet contact with the runner.  This type of collision is very frequent and looked innocuous…  Until you saw the after math…

Addae was bounced back, still on his feet, and began “short circuiting” for the national audience to see.  He begins to look around, kind of, and stumble, kind of, and lose full control of his extremities, all of them.  As a medical professional and athletic trainer I would have documented this OBJECTIVE finding as “unsteadiness and disorientation”.  It looked like a boxer/MMA fighter catching a fist/kick in the face late in a boxing match; the type of reaction that any referee in those sports would stop a match for and award a TKO to the other guy.

It happens from time to time in this and other sports, that is not the issue here.  The issue is that Addae returned to the game (oh, it gets worse).  Here is the tweet from last night (h/t to Brady Phelps’ Vine);

From what I can piece together this play was the last of the 3rd quarter and reports had him taking the field on the first play of the 4th quarter.  HE DIDN’T MISS A SINGLE SNAP!  Even with the long commercial break between quarters there is a maximum of 4 minutes, but if my DVR time was correct it was between 2 and 3 minutes.  This is not nearly enough time for a full concussion evaluation, by anyone.

“Maybe he was screened, like you said yesterday, Fink.”

There was absolutely no reason for a cursory “screen” in this situation, Addae showed a clear and overt sign of neurological impairment, in concussion recognition jargon: a sign.  When any player shows a sign there is no screen it means Continue reading

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Jamaal Charles; No Different Then Vast Majority of Competitive Athletes

Last week when the Chiefs played the Chargers running back Jamaal Charles scored a touchdown and was blasted in the end zone by Brandon Flowers.  A shot that Charles bounced up from and headed to the sideline while Flowers was slow to get to his feet.  The hit was helmet to face mask and the resulting forces were a classic case of what is typically needed to produce a concussion for one or both of the players.  Whether or not it actually did, we will never “officially know.”

The issue is not with the hit or the fact that Charles apparently cleared the screening done on the sideline after such a hit, the issue is with his comments a few days after on the Dan Le Batard show;

“It definitely hurt,” Charles said. “A couple plays later, I just [saw] this light buzz around my eyes and I was trying to catch ’em. But I was like, ‘Let’s get the ball and run again.'”

I am 100% confident that Head Athletic Trainer Rick Burkholder did his job on Sunday – screening Charles after the hit – it was evidenced on Tuesday/Wednesday when Burkholder placed Charles in the protocol as a precaution solely due to the comments Charles made.

Why you may ask?  Simple, by the absolute letter of the definition of concussion – disruption of normal brain function following a traumatic event – Charles admitted he was “not normal”.

Whether or not Charles had a concussion is up for debate among many people, not only externally – us blogging/media type – but likely internally – Charles and med staff.  Here in lies the problem with concussions and the issue of concussions.

As we tried to explain in the University of Michigan post, concussion is most often a subjective injury, we as medical professionals rely upon the athlete or injured to tell us what is going on.  If there are no overt or outward signs (loss of consciousness, wobbliness, gaze, vomiting, etc.) then all we can do is screen the athletes.  And by screening I mean simply asking the athlete if they are OK.

GAMING THE SYSTEM

I heard Mark Schlereth on Mike and Mike this morning saying something to the effect of; “there has to be more than just asking the player if they are ‘OK’?”.  The truth of the matter is that there is not really anything other than that; although just asking one question is not due diligence.  In my experience I ask more questions and even try to trick athletes into giving up any ruse they are trying to pull on me.  I have a to questions and line of questioning that has produced many responses that then warranted them to be fully examined with a sideline evaluation, even for the best “liars” (I won’t share them here because it can be used for people to study and then find a way around it).

The more complex yet simple reason we as athletic trainers feel confident with screening, even with limited questions, is that we know the athlete.  Their usual demeanor, behavior and general presentation.  People often ask me how long it takes me to know if someone has a concussion.  When they are my players, the ones I am around on a daily basis, usually it takes me Continue reading

Terry Ott: Concussion Coverage from Canadian Media is Woefully Lacking

The original purpose of The Concussion Blog was – and still is – to inform those that choose to look about concussions.  Part of this goal has been looking deeper into issues and “lip service” given to the brain injury we know as concussions.  In 2010, when the blog began, this was a novel idea and much of what was written here was “breaking news”.  Along with that, opinions that I shared on the issue were meant to be coming from someone with vast and dynamic experience in concussions.  The initial thought was this was to be a “clearinghouse” for concussion information – and it succeeded.  As years have passed and the media here in the United States has slowly caught on and passed along, mostly, the correct messages TCB has been slower.  However, that does not preclude us from posting information/opinion that we feel needs noticed.  Examples of this have been our white paper on NFL Concussions, the mouth gear controversy and general editorials on published research.

In the past year TCB has been lucky enough to have a journalist spend his own time investigating a part of the global concussion story, in Canada.  Terry Ott, as you may have noticed many of his articles here on the blog.  To be clear, this was all his work and I have become his one and only outlet for his sleuthing and writing.  As he can attest to I don’t always agree with his tact or his tone, but his information is important, especially because in Canada there seems to be a void in the information that would be important to most.  We here at TCB are glad to file his reports as long as he and others understand this is a conduit for discussion and discovery.  I have zero intention of “killing a sport” or “getting someone in trouble”, rather shedding light on some of the problems and issues we face when dealing with concussions.

All of that being said I present to you Ott’s latest (hopefully last here because someone in Canada needs to pick him up) on the concussion issue as it relates to the Great White North.

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WHEN IT COMES TO FOOTBALL CONCUSSIONS, CANADIAN MEDIA BADLY OFFSIDE

Recent New York Times Article Throws Flag

Hamilton, Ontario

October 22, 2014

For the past year readers of The Concussion Blog have learned about the nascent football concussion awareness movement going on in the Great White North, mostly pertaining to how the Canadian Football League, and the mainstream media, have handled-for lack of a better word-the issue.

Years behind the National Football League on the matter, the CFL nonetheless saw the first concussion-related lawsuit come its way last July, accompanied by media attention, much of which was a critical and sometimes downright hostile questioning and smack-down of former 2013  CFL’er Bruce’s groundbreaking statement of claim against the nine member teams of the CFL, neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Tator, Tator associate Leo Ezerins, and several other parties.

The lawsuit, among other things, alleges that the CFL member teams, and specifically some of Dr. Tator’s published research on TBI and CTE-partly funded by the CFL-mislead Mr. Bruce into believing he was not vulnerable to serious and long-term consequences from concussions he received while playing for the BC Lions. None of the allegations have been proven in court and Tator has filed a defense-covered here previously-that asks for the suit against him to be dismissed, with costs.

Yet other than one small article on former 80s era CFL player Phil Colwell, whose brief story and concussion-related problems appeared in his hometown KW Record paper in Ontario, last spring, your correspondent has been unable to place a single word in any other publication in Canada.

If it were not for Andrew Bucholtz of the Yahoo! Canada CFL 55 yard Line Blog sometimes linking to my stories here, few outside of the Concussion Blog’s sphere ever would have known about what did, and what continues to go on in Canada regarding football concussions and especially, their aftermath. Besides a small mention in the Vancouver Sun by journalist Mike Beamish when the Bruce story hit, no one in Canada besides Bucholtz saw the story as important enough to follow-up, and he has done fine work on his own regarding the concussion problem. As of now, I don’t believe Andrew is on many CFL General Manager or team PR weasel Christmas card lists.  (TSN, the CFL’s television carrier did do a piece on their website about the lawsuit in September that mentioned The Concussion Blog, but it was subsequently removed from their archive shortly after my last story for this site last month, and for reasons so far presumed, but actually unknown at this time to this writer. And I have not seen another story in the Canadian media on the lawsuit since.)

And a week ago, after reading in the Winnipeg Free Press a flattering tome on Dr. Tator from last July that appeared just before he was named as a defendant in the Bruce lawsuit, your correspondent reached out to the paper inquiring whether they would entertain a slightly different take on Tator’s research and related concussion issues via an Op-Ed.

However, after being ping-ponged back and forth between editors at the paper, I was told by an Op-Ed editor that the concussion issue was not “topical,” despite the Jevon Belcher CTE story breaking that week and despite the fact that Winnipeg is home to a CFL franchise. But rather, I was informed,  “Ebola” was of more import to their readers than what is essentially a real world and serious public health concern right now that surely can not be adequately explained by just one or two opinions, opinions which are even controversial within the medical and research community.

Likewise a kiss-off from my hometown CBC News website, whose editor, after some initial back and forth, just stopped responding to my e-mails and never published a piece I wrote on concussions in July even though it partly concerned the former Hamilton Tiger Cat, Phil Colwell.

TVO, the Canadian version of PBS, runs a show called The Agenda-and hell, the guy that hosts it has Hamilton roots!-that never met a contentious or important issue it did not glom on to and yet after receiving one return e-mail from a producer back in July commenting on my “unique” insights, I never heard another word.

Even the nice gal who runs TVO’s documentary film division, after initially offering to ask around if any of the filmmakers she had association with would be interested in the concussion story, none of my further e-mails were answered.

And, after being shut-out by nearly every institution purporting to be doing valid research into football concussions in Canada, I endured a recent 6 week runaround afforded me by the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. which is supposed to be “partnering” with the Canadian version of the Sports Legacy Institute, but certainly did not do much for their reputation for cooperation with journalists trying to ask valid questions.
So after over a month of BS and excuses, I got nadda from them. I actually felt bad for the PR lady who drew the short stick to deal with me, and then she just stopped responding altogether.
To say that some of my dealings with the Canadian media and medical academia would be a joke, would only serve to denigrate comedy.

So obviously, the question is, why?

A veteran of the sports medicine community in Canada speaking on condition of anonymity said that many in the medical community were “afraid” of upsetting Dr. Tator, who carries much weight in medical academia and research grants around these parts.

The source said that many in the closed community are “buzzing” about Tator  being named in the Bruce lawsuit but do not want to be featured in any story seeming to critique the doctor the TSN story described as “renown.”

However, the New York Times apparently does not have a problem featuring a different Canadian medical professional who, unlike Dr. Tator, does not believe CTE  from football concussions is still open for (serious) debate.  Continue reading

Constantly Learning and Watching: There is a Time to Act

It has been a truly busy season – in regards to injuries – where I perform my “day job”.  I was going over some records that I keep and this season has been the busiest in my 15 years.  In fact, when discussing with peers they too have had a high volume of injuries in the training room.  I would say it is karma; last season we were as slow as I could remember.

Part of what I do in my job is to evaluate the injuries and determine if there are any that could have been prevented.  Certainly preseason preparation – weights and conditioning – is a huge factor and we did that here, but there is always a place to learn and watch to make adjustments.  In reviewing the injuries (over 50 – not all concussions) I’ve encountered that required medical care beyond the athletic training room the results were “good”.  Only three were incidents that I considered “preventable”, one of which I posted about weeks ago. That is less than 10% of injuries that could have been prevented, which is good, not great, but good.  In years past I have seen numbers as high as 25-30% of injuries that I deemed “preventable”.  I take pride in doing my job and if I can prevent every single incident and only have injuries that occur on a “random” basis I will take it (has yet to happen in my 15 years).

Before we go further, I would like to give a glimpse into how I review injuries.  We will use a tib/fib fracture we had this year; this player was injured in a game and to me that is “un-preventable”.  However, a few years back we had a tib/fib fracture that occurred in practice – a practice with only “uppers” on and players were not supposed to take anyone to the ground – that incident was considered “preventable” to me.  If players and coaches were vigilant to the rules of practice that player would never have been rolled up on during a tackle.  Concussions are similar…

I feel that concussions can be “prevented” in practice with contact limits and proper technique during drills.  The other two incidents, thus far, I deemed preventable occurred in practices and were concussions.  One player was hit by a teammate during a non-contact soccer drill as a “joke” and the other did not use good judgement and ran into a pile and was rocked.

The take home here is that most injuries are part of sports and we must accept this.  Also, athletic trainers have much more to worry about and analyze than most think.

All of the observation and learning also pertains to return to play; whether that be orthopedic rehabilitation or concussion return to play protocol.  We, as athletic trainers, must express our voices when there is something going on that is a player safety issue.  This can be as simple as modifying team warm-ups all the way to the case I had yesterday.

One of the concussed kids was on his final step for RTP (full contact practice), he is Continue reading

Weighing in on Michigan Situation

If you follow college football or listen to sports radio there is a good chance that you have been exposed to the story of Michigan quarterback, Shane Morris, and the apparent failure to keep him from the field after sustaining a head injury.  The official story from the University is that it was a communication error.

Believe it or not, that could be exactly correct.  Now, were there some possible missteps along the way by ALL involved, yes.  Is there one single person or policy in place that is to blame, no.  I offer some perspective before everyone eviscerates their choice of target in this case, lets take a look at how this could have went sideways.

The Player

Morris was roughed up a bit as the game progressed; he is a sophomore QB that was just elevated to the starting position on a premiere football program.  Certainly he displayed some orthopedic distress as he was limping heavily after a play – how many times have we seen players play through ankle/knee/leg/foot injuries and some times even celebrated for doing so.  Morris was playing through pain trying to help his team, but what happened next need not happen; however the player himself has a lot to do with how it will and did go down.

After Morris was hit in the head he attempted to get up and was obviously unsteady on his feet, he even waved off the medical team.  I have been told by a good source that he even told the sidelines it was his ankle that was the issue, not his head.  Which is entirely plausible, but due to the mechanism of the previous play would be unlikely the main reason for his wobbliness.

Athletic trainers as medical professionals are not omnipotent but we sure are close (ha) when it comes to injuries on the field/court of play.  We do rely upon input from other human beings to make quick and decisive decisions.  Doing so, in some instances, can end up creating a delay in proper treatment as it did in this case.  Morris’ insistence that he was ‘OK’ immediately after the hit was taken for face value in that very short period of time.  Considering the confluence of all the other factors for player safety – his ankle, his immediate response to the sideline, his demeanor – he was not ripped from the field.  To be honest here, I have never seen a coach, teammate, athletic trainer or other – in the college or professional ranks – step on a field to remove a player that got up and “shook it off”; usually it takes the player going down and staying down for that to happen, if he/she does not leave the field under their own volition.  Because of this, it is on the player to make sure they are seeking the proper care for their own well-being.

After the next play, Morris was removed for evaluation of his injuries.  Part of that evaluation included his head and the team Continue reading