Concussions have garnered a lot of press lately as a major source of injuries to athletes. The NFL has been cracking down on violent tackles, with a number of players being fined for such hits. The NFL has set aside money for a study of the impact of concussions.
The media has covered stories such as that of Dave Duerson, the former defensive back best known for his play with the 1986 Chicago Bears and their famous 46 defense under defensive coordinator, Buddy Ryan. Duerson suspected that he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). He committed suicide early this year in south Florida and left a note saying he wanted his brain examined by experts on CTE at Boston University. A post-mortem exam revealed that he did indeed suffer from CTE.
CTE is also referred to as post-concussion syndrome. It was perhaps first brought to the public’s attention in 2006 by Chris Nowinski. Nowinski was an All-Ivy League football player at Harvard who went on to become a pro wrestling star villain with the WWE. He was forced to retire in 2004 following following a concussion.
Nowinksi founded the Sports Legacy Institute after meeting Dr. Robert Cantu, a leading expert on CTE. Nowinski realized that a lack of awareness among athletes, coaches and even medical professionals had helped cost him his career, and threatened the health and welfare of athletes of all ages. This led him in 2006 to complete and publish his acclaimed book, Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis.
Concussions are known more formally as mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). States including Pennsylvania have passed laws requiring medical clearance before high school athletes can return to participation in their sport after they have been diagnosed as having suffered a TBI. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’s Neurology Department have been conducting research into the incidence of concussions (one of many articles on this topic can be found here. Among other things they have tested whether or not the King-Devick test can accurately diagnose the occurrence of concussions.
This simple, easy to administer test was originally developed in the 1970s by Al King and Steve Devick, two optometrists who were looking for a way to test for reading disorders. Dr. Devick eventually hypothesized that the test, which looks at saccadic eye movements, could be used to test for the presence of a concussion.
The test can be administered in about a minute and almost anyone can be quickly trained to administer it. Early results from the studies at Penn have indicated that it is indeed an accurate test to determine if an athlete should be withheld from competition following a hard blow to the head.
Dr. Devick conducted a seminar on this test at the United States Sports Academy on November 11, 2011. He highlighted the recent research and talked about the science underlying the test. He stressed that it is not a test to be used to determine if an athlete is ready to return to play after suffering a concussion. That type of testing is beyond the scope of the King-Devick test. He argued that the test is so inexpensive and easy to administer on the sideline of a sporting event that it needs to be widely used.
Hall of Fame safety Mike Haynes also presented at the seminar. Mr. Haynes discussed how the NFL is looking at adopting better safety measures to prevent TBIs and, more importantly, to prevent repeat injuries when players return to action too soon after suffering a TBI. Mr. Haynes has worked with NFL officials on player safety issues. He admitted in response to a question that at present no NFL team has formally adopted the King-Devick test, although a couple of teams are quietly using it.
Dr. Devick now lives in Gainesville, Florida and reported that trainers at the University of Florida are using it with the football team. Both men stressed that research is ongoing but that the results so far are very positive.
Kimberly Archie is a leading proponent of cheerleading safety. Her own daughter suffered a catastrophic injury eight years ago while cheering. She has founded a non-profit advocacy group and travels around the country promoting safer cheerleading practices and urging organizations to develop emergency plans for when catastrophic injuries do occur. Ms. Archie also spoke at the seminar. Her presentation was very powerful and she talked about the numerous serious, life altering injuries that occur each year from cheerleading accidents. Many of these injuries involve spinal injuries and many involve TBIs.
The last presenter was Dr. Herb Appenzeller. Dr. Appenzeller has been a leading authority on sport and the law for over four decades. He is an expert in risk management. Simply put, risk management involves organizations developing and implementing plans to lessen the possibility of athletes suffering catastrophic injuries and to improve responses when such injuries do occur. Dr. Appenzeller has found in his work that a majority of schools at every level of competition do not have up-to-date prevention plans and they also don’t have good response plans in place.
The common theme among all of these speakers was the lack of proper planning and protection that currently exists to protect athletes (and cheerleaders are athletes too). The United States Sports Academy was founded on the premise that those in leadership positions in the field of sport need to be better educated to teach, train and protect athletes at all levels from youth sports to professional leagues.
The speakers at the recent seminar were actually talking about the need to publicize new information that can help leaders in sport educate others so that they can protect the health and safety of athletes. Much of this information is now available online. Panhandle Sports Broadcasting presented a podcast of the seminar and this podcast can be viewed here. The Academy will soon have a webinar available of this seminar complete with graphics and other enhancements that anyone can view by going to the Academy website at http://ussa.edu.
Greg Tyler is the editor of The Sport Digest. He is a former practicing attorney and refereed high school and college soccer at one time. He attended the recent seminar and this article grew out of those presentations.