Attention focuses on football’s neurological effects

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger, writing in Time, looks at two things he claims are being overlooked during the most recent uproar over football injuries: High school athletes and spinal injuries. Bissinger has strong opinions and two anecdotes, one of which includes a source who said that roughly two Texas high school football players suffer catastrophic spinal injuries each year.

stadium
Photo by julio cesar via Flickr.

Bissinger praises Alan Schwarz’ work on concussions at The New York Times, but openly doubts whether the advances Schwarz is helping force at the professional level will ever translate to high school.

I know the focus will not trickle down to where it is needed most: the high school level. Research has shown that young players are far more susceptible than older ones to serious injuries. …

There should be an ambulance at every high school game. There should be trainers. But don’t bet on it, as school districts cry a lack of money. Kids will continue to suffer serious head injuries. Kids will continue to become paralyzed because they never learned how to properly tackle, with their heads up. The game’s violence will continue because that’s exactly why we like it, our gladiatorial lust still intact 16 centuries after the Romans. The bigger the hit, the greater the roar.

Not a new concern

In an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, Deborah Blum, a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin, writes about a warning published in The Journal of the American Medical Association that said the medical profession can no longer ignore that “There is a very definite brain injury due to single or repeated blows on the head or jaw which cause multiple concussion hemorrhages” in a report about professional athletes.”

But what really makes the research and its conclusions so interesting is its timing: it appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association on Oct. 13, 1928. This raises the question – at least for me – as to why we are announcing the athlete concussion-dementia link as a new, and still somewhat debatable, issue some 80 years later.

House Judiciary forum

Watch a video webcast of the Feb. 1 “House Judiciary Committee Forum on Head Injuries and Other Sports Injuries in Youth, High School, College and Professional Football,” or read about Republican’s reluctance to hold said forum in Houston.

Dan Rather report

Dan Rather’s latest investigative effort was a far-reaching look at concussions and football, with emphasis on both the high school and professional games. He frames it as part of the pre-Super Bowl concussion awareness push (PDF Transcript).

ESPN to air ‘Head Games’

ESPN reporter Greg Garber, on “Outside the Lines,” will look at the issue of concussions and the NFL at 8 a.m. ET on Sunday. Harold Donald Carson, a former linebacker and inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, “has become one of the leading spokesmen for the NFL’s retired players. Passionate and eloquent, he is in some ways the league’s conscience on the subject.”

Carson, who played 13 seasons for the New York Giants, estimates he suffered about a dozen concussions during his career, but none of them were documented. While he believes concussions among former football players will escalate into an epidemic, Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Steelers’ neurosurgeon for nearly three decades and a member of the NFL’s concussion committee for the past three years, disputes that:

“Because we know that there are millions of high school kids, college kids, youth leagues, as well as other who play football annually, I think we are not seeing the epidemic at that level people are speculating about,” Maroon said.

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