Tag Archives: football

Tip sheet provides pointers on concussion-related testing and other concussion research resources

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Courteney via Flickr

Photo: Courteney via Flickr

In what seems to be an eternity ago, I wrote about a pair of studies on concussions for Scientific American. The 2013 piece was interesting to write because it covered two studies whose combined findings revealed as much about the gaps in concussion research as they did clinically useful findings.

A few years after that, I wrote about a panel at the 2016 Health Journalism conference on sports concussions that highlighted some of the questions journalists need to consider when writing about this often contentious research. Continue reading

Covering sports concussions: Some takeaways from the #AHCJ16 panel

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: Tara Haelle/AHCJNFL free agent Josh Cribbs captivated attendees with his own experiences, talking about the lengths that players would go to conceal possible concussions and game the tests.

Photo: Tara Haelle/AHCJNFL free agent Josh Cribbs captivated attendees with his own experiences, talking about the lengths that players would go to conceal possible concussions and game the tests.

Conversations about concussions, traumatic brain injury and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have become more common in recent years as many military veterans return with disabling head injuries and the impact of football injuries on the brain gets more scrutiny in medical research.

The recent movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith, raised even more awareness of the sports side of the issue. The higher profile in the media about sports head injuries, specifically in football, was the focus of a well-attended panel, “Covering the Concussion Crisis: Research and Real Life,” at the Health Journalism 2016 conference last month. Continue reading

College football, sickle cell can be deadly combo

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Rachel George, Iliana Limón and Shannon J. Owens of the Orlando Sentinel look at college football players whose deaths have been linked to sickle cell trait.

Overwhelmingly in the past 11 years, more non-traumatic football deaths have occurred from complications from sickle cell trait than any other cause. It has accounted for nine of the 21 non-traumatic deaths in that time despite the trait existing in just 8 percent of African-Americans. It accounts for an even lesser extent in Hispanics, Caucasians and other ethnicities. And while the trait has been linked to deaths in other sports and at other levels, it has affected a much greater number of college football players.

Many doctors, coaches and trainers wonder what factors push a “generally benign” trait into a dangerous medical condition. George outlines some of the factors, such as coming back to training after a break, the kinds of drills athletes do, heat and hydration, altitude and more.

In the stories, doctors, coaches and former players discuss why football accounts for 82 percent of the cases in the U.S. National Registry of Sudden Death in Athletes.

The story includes NCAA materials about sickle cell trait and a graphic of the difference between normal blood cells and sickle cells. In a related story, Owens reports that “every baby in the United States is tested for sickle cell trait at birth, many athletes who’ve had it either didn’t know or didn’t understand what it meant.” In another story, she talks to parents of a child born with sickle cell trait who say they didn’t get information about the potential fatal complications.

The pitfalls of made-for-media scientific research

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.

In our archive, you’ll find plenty of discussion about how the rhythms and demands of the newsroom impact media coverage of science, but what about the other side of the coin?

lombardi-trophy

Photo by youraddresshere via Flickr

What about those odd times when it appears that scientific researchers and publishers time their releases to get the most attention from the mainstream media?

When that question was begged by the overwhelming attention given to a study of heart attacks during two 1980s Superbowls that just happened to be released in time for this year’s big game, “Dr. Wes” Fisher examined the study on his blog. In this case, it seems, a well-timed news hook by the study’s authors may have triumphed over solid research. As an anecdote for all the unquestioning, “will-ya-look-at-this!” headlines, Fisher offers a quick laundry list of the study’s shortcomings:

  • Selection bias
  • Contamination bias
  • Co-intervention bias
  • The use of diagnosis codes culled from death certificates

(Hat tip to R. W. Donnell)

Online guide focuses on covering medical studies

Covering Medical Research

Reporters are inundated with lures to cover the latest medical study or scientific conference paper. And there are some significant milestones being reached in medical research. But, more often, the information reaching the public is way too preliminary or even misleading, say those behind a new AHCJ reporting guide on covering health studies.

The guide will help journalists analyze and write about health and medical research studies. It offers advice on recognizing and reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals and it includes 10 questions you should answer to produce a meaningful and appropriately skeptical report. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a road map to help you do a better job of explaining research results for your audience.

Researchers surprised by concussion study

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.

Writing for Sports Illustrated, David Epstein tells the story of a small-scale Indiana football concussion study in which in which the youth in the control group unexpectedly became the headliners. The researchers were using functional MRIs and the popular ImPACT test, along with helmet-mounted accelerometers, to figure out what sort of hits cause concussions and how the consequences of such hits vary.

helmet

Photo by Les_Stockton via Flickr

Their first discovery? That “no particular magnitude of hit correlated with a concussion.” In fact, the youth they studied were suffering from very few concussions. It wasn’t until they started testing the unconcussed youth, as a sort of control, that they started seeing the results that have come to define their study, the full text of which is available online. Epstein again:

Of those eight [unconcussed youth], four nevertheless showed significant declines in visual memory. In fact, the players with the most impaired visual memory skills were not coming from the concussed group but from a group that in the week preceding the test had taken a large numbers of hits—around 150—mostly in the 40 to 80 G range

If the test scores were accurate, the researchers had inadvertently documented, in real time, a new classification of high school athlete: a player who was never concussed, was not verbally impaired and was asymptomatic even as far as his parents could tell, but whose visual memory was more impaired than his amnesic, headachy, light-sensitive, concussed teammates.

Researchers discovered one other surprise: The players who were asymptomatic but had impaired visual memory had suffered hits to the upper forehead, “which houses the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex – where linemen get hit, play in and play out,” as opposed to the heavy hits to the side of the helmet that most of us associate with concussions.

It’s a very small-scale study – only 21 boys completed the study conducted over one football season – but the researchers are expanding their work this season. Nevertheless, Epstein indulges in some speculation:

Consider this: Concussions as we know them involve a hit that rattles a part of the brain involved in language processing or motor skills. Hits to the forehead that might be every bit as damaging hide their nefarious effects in the frontal lobe, a part of the brain primarily involved in visual memory, planning and cognition, rather than motor or sensory function, and thus not taxed by sideline concussion exams. Indeed, it’s possible that all along, while brain trauma questions have focused on concussions, the real damage is being inflicted by minor impacts that chip away at the brain.

In another piece in Sports Illustrated, Peter King looks at recent violent hits in the National Football League that have attracted attention, the NFL’s attempts to make the game safer and the fans’ and players’ attitudes about the game.

Online guide focuses on covering medical studies

Covering Medical Research

Reporters are inundated with lures to cover the latest medical study or scientific conference paper. And there are some significant milestones being reached in medical research. But, more often, the information reaching the public is way too preliminary or even misleading, say those behind a new AHCJ reporting guide on covering health studies.

The guide will help journalists analyze and write about health and medical research studies. It offers advice on recognizing and reporting the problems, limitations and backstory of a study, as well as publication biases in medical journals and it includes 10 questions you should answer to produce a meaningful and appropriately skeptical report. This guide, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be a road map to help you do a better job of explaining research results for your audience.

 

As school starts, so do youth sports injuries

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.

The University of Michigan’s new Michigan NeuroSport Concussion Program seems to be cropping up everywhere, and as far as I can tell, it’s all part of a coordinated effort by the University. They already claim to have one of the only pediatric sport programs in the country, and now they’re expanding it with a clinical and research focus on “neurological sports injuries.”

In related news, the latest CDC Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report includes an analysis of the numbers for “Heat Illness Among High School Athletes” from 2005 to 2009. The study examined 100 schools and nine sports, and found that heat-related illness was most common in football, and that August was the worst month for such afflictions.

AHCJ has a rich pool of resources for journalists looking to report beyond the press releases on stories like these, including:

Tip sheets
Concussions in young athletes
Reporting on sports injuries in school-age children
Health and education: Two intersecting beats
Health and education: Reporting resources
Blog posts
Tougher concussion rules from high school assn.
GAO evaluates youth concussion databases
Concussion more likely when hit is unexpected (Youth hockey study)
Attention focuses on football’s neurological effects
AP story: Hundreds of PTSD soldiers likely misdiagnosed