I am Not Sure If We Know What a Concussion is

Troy Vincent
The New York Times in Player Silence on Concussions May Block N.F.L. Guidelines by Alan Schwarz, reported that Troy Vincent, President of the NFL Players Association, said:

“I’m not sure if we, as athletes, know what a concussion is just listening to these doctors and researchers talk. Outside of me being knocked out, asleep, I went back in the game on all the other occasions. And 50 or 60 times, I’m in the huddle, I don’t know where I’m at, don’t know the call, and I’ve got a player holding me up. I’m not sure if athletes really know what a concussion is — get some smelling salts and back in the game.”

These words of wisdom came at a “Concussion Conference”, held by the league, on June 19th in Rosemont, Illinois.

Each NFL team sent a physician and two trainers to discuss ways of limiting brain injuries from concussions. All attendees received a package filled with concussion research.

What Is A Concussion?

Princeton’s Wordnet defines it as: “injury to the brain caused by a blow; usually resulting in loss of consciousness.”

NFL’s Opinion

That sounds pretty serious to me, but not to the NFL, which seems to be more concerned about profits, than the welfare of its players. The NFL, founded in 1902, formed the “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury” (MTBI) Committee in 1994, which finally began to study concussions.

So, they did not consider concussions to be of any consequence for their first 92 years, and not serious enough to formulate any sort of policy on them since they began studying them, in 1994.

The main difference in this conference, was that the NFL invited Dr. Kevin M. Guskiewicz. Guskiewicz as reported here, had conducted a study of 2,559 retired players, linking concussions to depression, despite the fact that Henry Feuer, a Neurosurgical Consultant to the Indianapolis Colts, called the study “essentially worthless.” However Henry is the same fellow, who was commissioned by the NFL in 2005, to conduct a study of concussions on High School football players, and concluded that “it might be safe” for players who suffer concussions to return to play in the same game, so in my opinion, his opinion is worthless to anyone but the NFL.

On June 10, 2007, Alan Schwarz reported in N.F.L. Study Authors Dispute Concussion Finding that Dr. Feuer had changed his mind, and high school (not professional) players should not return to a game after suffering a concussion. Quoting Mr. Schwarz’s excellent article:

Feuer said that he “would change that sentence; I’d eliminate it.” Regarding high school players, he added: “It’s been shown that they don’t seem to recover as fast. Period.”

Another one of the authors, Cynthia Arfken, a Ph.D. employed by Wayne State University, went even further. Arfken, who co-authored another gem, Decreasing Unnecessary Care in a Psychiatric Emergency Service, as well as my favorite, a study of 48 cocaine dependent adults with ADD, claimed that she was unaware of the contents of the study and claimed that it was published without her permission. Arfken was given a proof to review, but as Mr. Schwarz reported, she ”did not examine it carefully.”

Less carefully than the check she received for contributing to the report?

Dr. Ira Casson, another author and the Co–Chairman of the MTBI committee, had the best comment:

“The fact that someone may misinterpret what we wrote in that paper does not mean that what we wrote in that paper was inaccurate, incorrect or shouldn’t have been done. This paper was aimed at scientists and physicians. If people who are not scientists or physicians are misunderstanding it, then that is not the responsibility of those of us who wrote it.”

Curiously, Dr. Joseph Waeckerle, the emergency doctor for the Kansas City Chiefs said, “My recommendation is that we write an editorial, or we write a piece, that explains very clearly that there is no external validity to this paper.”

The semi–eminent Dr. Feuer, countered with:

“I’m happy that more is coming of this. We set out to study a finite period of time. Look at what’s coming from it — continuous arguments. That’s what’s important. We’re getting people’s ire up. That’s how you get good studies done. When people get critical of something, you look into it more.”

The NFL’s commissioner, Roger Goodell, was on the same wave length as Dr. Feuer, saying:

“Vigorous debate is part of advancing that agenda.”

Unfortunately, debates don’t accomplish anything.

What Will The NFL Do?

Players will be checked prior to the season for head injuries. A physician will measure their reaction times, and other data, which will then be used to determine if they are hurt badly enough during the season to be considered ”injured.”

Referees will make sure players are wearing their helmets correctly, and that their chin straps are secured.

The biggest change will be the introduction and implementation of an anonymous system for players and personnel to inform the NFL if they feel that a Coach is forcing a player, who might have a head injury to play.

Personally, I think that proposal is idiotic, because nobody likes a stool pigeon, and nobody wants to ruin their career.

What Do Players Say?

Joe Theismann
Joe Theismann was the starting Quarterback for the Washington Redskins, from 1978 through 1985. Lawrence Taylor ended his career by sacking him on a busted play, and accidentally falling on his leg, shattering it.

Jayne and I were at that game. You could hear Theisman’s bone snap in the stands.

Theismann said he suffered between five and ten concussions, in a recent interview.

“If you could identify fingers the trainer was holding up, you went back into the game. Our education on concussions was nonexistent, but what we did know was if you sat down and didn’t play, and another guy did well, your career was gone.”

If you’e career is “gone” by sitting down, imagine what will happen when you (anonymously?) complain about your coach. And how can it be anonymous if you are the subject of the complaint?

What Does The Commissioner Say?

This is how NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, summarized his position, and lack of action:

“No one has all the answers in this area so I don’t think anybody is being irresponsible. I think they want to be extremely responsible in trying to bring awareness and proper medical care to not only our players but to people who suffer concussions, which happens increasingly outside the NFL.”

My Opinion

  1. Anyone who complains about their coach will never play again.
  2. Nothing will happen until a player with a concussion returns to a game, gets hit in the head again, and is permanently disabled on the spot.