Tag Archives: sports

As Tenn. lags in youth sports concussion laws, reporter shows delay taking a toll

The Tennesean‘s Nate Rau becomes the leader in the clubhouse for 2012’s “most viscerally disquieting use of a verb” award after opening his youth sports concussions story with “The hit that sloshed 17-year-old Joseph Lascara’s brain.” The entire anecdote, much like the hit it describes, is well-timed and jarring, and Rau then follows through with a thorough investigation of Tennessee’s legislative approach to youth head injuries, or lack thereof.

high school tackle

Photo by Eagle102.net via Flickr

The state’s athletic association has adopted limited concussion prevention and treatment regulations, but they do not apply to nonmember schools or independent youth sports organizations. Furthermore, Rau writes that efforts to pass statewide legislation “fizzled” this year, meaning that “Tennessee is now one of only 11 states, mostly in the Southeast, without a law,” even though “doctors who specialize in youth concussion care say the issue is urgent.”

The number of youth concussions treated at hospitals in Tennessee has increased 74 percent from 480 in 2007 to 834 in 2010, according to the state’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program, which functions as a resource for Tennesseans recovering from brain injuries. Those numbers do not include young athletes who were treated by their pediatricians instead of going to the emergency room.

Journalists looking to replicate Rau’s work would do well to note how he used public records requests to access the so-called “Return to Play” forms (required by many state and local concussion-prevention laws) which doctors must file before young athletes may return to the field. While some local counties couldn’t locate the forms, the 140 he did find indicated a somewhat inconsistent implementation.

The review showed that doctors are frequently clearing athletes to return to practice or competition without following the recommended guidelines that gradually ease players back into physical activity. Of the 156 athletes who visited a doctor with concussion-like symptoms, 57 were immediately cleared to return to play.

College football, sickle cell can be deadly combo

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.

Concussion-related trauma masquerades as ALS

The New York TimesAlan Schwarz reports on what he says is “the first firm pathological indications that brain trauma results in motor-neuron degeneration.” The headline behind that conclusion, of course, is that researchers say some  athletes with concussion and impact-induced brain injuries may have been misdiagnosed as ALS victims.


Photo by peterjr1961 via Flickr

In interviews, the study’s authors even speculate that Lou Gherig, who gave the disease its popular name, may have instead suffered from a similar disease caused in part by brain injuries.

The finding was not unexpected, given that ALS seemed to occur at much higher rates in concussion-heavy populations like athletes and soldiers.

Schwarz’s summary of the study:

Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., and the Boston University School of Medicine, the primary researchers of brain damage among deceased National Football League players, said that markings in the spinal cords of two players and one boxer who also received a diagnosis of A.L.S. indicate that those men did not have A.L.S. at all. They had a different fatal disease, doctors said, caused by concussionlike trauma, that erodes the central nervous system in similar ways.

It’s in the emergence of that second disease that really seems to have attracted Schwarz’ attention. It behaves similarly to ALS, but shows a distinct protein pattern that only seemed to emerge in patients with a history of head injury. There is not, however, a 1:1 relationship. Other factors seem to also be at play, Schwarz writes.

Gary Schwitzer of HealthNewsReview.org examines the story more closely and concludes that, while this is an “important and fascinating area of research,” the story “did not exhibit the best of health/medical/science journalism.” He lists seven points of criticism and includes comments from one of the site’s medical editors.

John Gever of MedPage Today offers more scientific coverage of the study and points out that there was no mention of Gehrig in the study but that “a New York Times reporter coaxed McKee into suggesting that Gehrig may have been among those misdiagnosed – even though, as a first baseman, he did not routinely experience violent collisions. (He was, however, beaned at least twice during his 14-year career with the New York Yankees.)”

Stadium concessions rack up health violations

ESPN’s Paula Lavigne examined 2009 health department inspections from the 107 stadiums that host MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL games in the United States and Canada. The resulting report may keep you from indulging in your favorite ballpark food.

At 30 of the venues (28 percent), more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one “critical” or “major” health violation. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, become fatal.


Photo by Katie Spence via Flickr

An interactive map lets you see the venues based on the number of violations there; rolling your mouse over the location tells you the percentage of vendors found in violation and gives some information about the kinds of violations that were found.

The same information, compiled by Lavigne and Producer Lindsay Rovegno, is also available in a text format broken down by state.

Many of the excerpts cite instances in which food was not being kept at appropriate temperatures and a few are related to pests, but there are a few more unusual examples:

  • At the Jobing.com Arena, where the Phoenix Coyotes play, “inspectors spotted an employee scooping ice with his bare hands instead of using scoops.”
  • At Dodger Stadium, there was mold growing inside an ice machine.
  • At Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium and at the Pepsi Center in Denver, inspectors found flies in bottles of liquor.
  • At Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, inspectors found an employee’s half-eaten hamburger in a warming unit.

Another interesting note: Food inspectors aren’t always visiting unannounced nor are they always visiting when concessions are open. In Chicago, inspections are done when the stadiums are empty and no workers are preparing or serving food. At Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium, inspectors must “submit a list of employees’ names and make an appointment a few days in advance.”

Reporters who have a major sports venue in their community might want to see how it stacks up against others, what kinds of violations have been found and do some further reporting.

Resources for covering food safety

Tip Sheets



Group hopes to track jockey injuries

At present, the horse racing industry maintains a database of horse injuries and deaths, yet does not afford the human athletes that ride them the same courtesy. The (Louisville) Courier-Journal‘s Gregory Hall reports that there may finally be some momentum to change that, given talks at the “Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit” – the same event at which such a database was first proposed several years ago.

Photo by j/k_lolz via Flickr

The original summit in 2006 made a similar recommendation to create a human injury database, which was paired with the recommendation that led to the Equine Injury Database, which now receives reports from 86 racetracks. Those racetracks represent more than four-fifths of thoroughbred flat races and all steeplechase races.

Gathering statistics on the timing, nature and cause of the injuries would be a huge step toward increasing jockey safety.

According to Jockeys’ Guild statistics, 128 riders have died since 1940 from injuries suffered on racetracks in the United States, The Courier-Journal reported in April. Currently, about 60 riders who suffered brain or spinal-cord injuries receive modest aid from the racing industry’s Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund.

Just this week, two jockeys were injured during racing at a Tulsa, Okla., track – one suffered a broken neck.

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