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

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Research That Should Stop You In Your Tracks

OK, that title may be hyperbole, but the new research out of Canada should make you take a step back and realize what our fine researchers are now able to discover.  Considering the context of hockey it shouldn’t be shocking that this was found in Canada (since posting we have been informed that work was done on both sides of the border), but really for a long while now some of the best work on concussions is coming from the North, for whatever reason (no disrespect to the US scientists).

Now that I effectively pissed off a few readers with the last comment, here is what was found by Dr. Paul Echlin and team:

  • concussions alter the white matter of the brain
  • structural damage can now be seen
  • MRI was used
  • this is both males and females
  • brain vascular changes were noted in males only, but resolved at two months
  • comparison with control counterparts showed that concussed individuals had white mater changes at end of season (upon being fully resolved from injury)

From the CTV News article (video at jump);  Continue reading

Canada’s National Pastime Part II

Courtesy of Jason's Ice Oasis Photos

Dr. Echlin spoke yesterday, as we blogged about, and the information he gave was startling for those that love hockey. He stated that concussions occurring in hockey may be seven times higher than in current literature.

In his study he followed two junior hockey teams with these reports, found in an article by Argus-Press;

Seventeen players had a total of 21 concussions during 52 physician-observed games, with almost one-quarter of those occurring among players involved in on-ice fights, say the researchers, whose study is published in the November issue of the journal Neurological Focus.

Dr. Echlin went on to say that 69% of the hits that caused concussions were blows to the head and 29% of the players sustained a second concussion.

Paul Melia, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports in Ottawa, described the incidence of concussions in the study “alarming and disturbing” and deemed it “a siren call to action for parents, for coaches, for hockey association executives at all levels in the system.”

It is work by Dr. Echlin and others in this field that is promising for the protection of athletes. And with coverage from news outlets, the word is spreading and awareness is raising.

In no fashion should the sports we love and crave be dismantled, but the concern for concussions need to be addressed for no other purpose than the youth. The rise in concussions is something that many are trying to figure out, but awareness and education is the common theme, as well as keeping the young safe. Remember that you only have one brain.