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.



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. 

The October 4 Times’ story featured the Burlington, Ontario Sports Concussion Library headed by Dr. Paul Echlin, who in 2011 was lauded on this site by webmaster Dustin Fink as actually being ahead of the American researchers on some matters of TBI.

After some initial reluctance, Dr. Echlin, via e-mail, became the first Canadian health care pro investigating traumatic brain injury to not only answer me, but also offer this when asked if “extreme caution” should be exercised in a diagnosis of pathologies like CTE as prescribed by Dr. Tator in one of his recent research papers, also written about by your correspondent on this site.

“The issue should not be that significant pathology exists after repetitive brain trauma, or that it has short and long-term effects on the individual. Published peer-reviewed evidence for this already exists. As stated in the Neurosurgeon publication the current evidence concerning concussions far exceeds that of SARS and Tainted Blood epidemics,” said Dr. Echlin, who also supplied his own study:  (http://www.sportconcussionlibrary.com/content/hcep-peer-reviewed-publications-2010-14)

Whoaa!!!  What did the well-respected Doc Echlin just say?

He said that, as far as (sports) concussions go, the (concussion) issue “far exceeds that of SARS and Tainted Blood epidemics.”

In Canada, those are strong words indeed as much was written and sweated and investigated up here on the above public health menace issues. Both were of world-wide concern to the media as is the concussion issue.

Although Dr. Echlin’s statement would apparently be news to the Winnipeg Free Press editor as well in my experience probably most other Canadian media as well, thanks to the candidness of Dr. Echlin,-who also noted the work of Boston University researchers, Dr. Bob Cantu and Dr. Ann McKee, and Dr.Tator- it is now part of the record.
And then low and behold, there is Dr. Margaret Somerville, a highly respected bioethics and legal and medical professor at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.
In a phone interview, Dr. Somerville took Dr. Echiln’s comments a first down further, saying that the concussion crisis was “more disturbing (than SARS or the tainted blood scandal) in that it is deliberately an institutional obfuscation.”
“As a public health crisis, SARS could be distinguished from concussion injury, because all precautions were taken to try to avoid the harm of the former and harm that did occur was unavoidable and not intended, and there was no institutional denial or concealment of the danger or injury,” added Dr. Somerville.
Dr. Somerville  also said that the concussion issue was “a very big problem from a legal perspective” in that researchers (italics added) and physicians must be “reasonably prudent and ethically legal….with the primary obligation to the best interest of the player.” Adding, “legally the physician must act as a reasonably competent and careful physician of the required type and level of expertise required by the patient’s condition.”
And finally,Dr. Somerville said that the “medical community was hierarchical…and that those who rock the boat can get into trouble.” But, she also said, “It’s to be expected, therefore, that physicians who challenge the hierarchy or the consensus will face opposition, but that is how the profession gets to its ‘truth’. The important requirements in elucidating that truth are honesty, integrity and authenticity employed in the cause of always placing the patient’s ‘best interests’ first,” observed Dr. Somerville.
Yes, I am well aware of that kind of boat rocking and I hope that Dr. Echlin and Dr. Somerville don’t have their vessels taking on any water as a result that they were the only ones who would dare talk anywhere near out of turn to me on this issue.
So, let me get this straight: The New York Times is interested in an important Canadian story, but all the other Canadian media I have contacted about the same issue(s) except the KW Record, are not.
The University of Western Ontario would not speak to me at all, and yet the first time I called Dr. Somerville, she answered her own phone, and gave me a 15 minute interview, and then followed up with an e-mail clarifying several points.
Go figure why I had to go out of province to get a straight answer to my questions, or any kind of answer for that matter when UWO is supposed to be now leading the way on sports concussions. What are they afraid of?
And yet interestingly, I have heard from several sources that the CFL, the media, and of course the medical community and some academia have heard about what I have found and had published courtesy of The Concussion Blog and Dustin Fink, who incidentally deserves The Order of Canada for his involvement more than most of the people they give it to up here.

Apparently, according to the sources I spoke with, the CFL people are “terrified” at how all this concussion and lawsuit business will wash out and apparently there are many repeat visitors from Canada to the Concussion Blog when your correspondent stirs the pot. Or as Bruce lawsuit defendant Leo Ezerins is alleged to have said about the concussion issue, “our game is under attack,” and I’d guess I am seen as the Black Knight, and for sure not in a Monty Python way.
Gee, can you begin to imagine how they would feel if the media up here actually (seriously) addressed the issue from a fair, public heath crisis perspective, not even including balanced coverage of the lawsuit?

Under the current circumstances, I won’t, and you shouldn’t, hold your breath.


One thought on “Terry Ott: Concussion Coverage from Canadian Media is Woefully Lacking

  1. Mike H October 23, 2014 / 11:08

    I can understand why TSN deliberately downplays head injuries and attacks truthseekers as unpatriotic. They have spent a fortune to be the sole broadcaster of the CFL. The shameful behavior of the rest of Canada’s media, including publicly owned public interest flag waving CBC, is harder to explain, except that I would note that power is concentrated in Canada and exerts proportionately more influence over our media and other institutions. Therefore, Terry, anyone earning a paycheck in Canada is afraid to go on the record, unless it’s to say nice, Canadian-polite platitudes supporting the status quo.

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