By John Doherty
Times Sports Correspondent
STORY OF YEAR HAS FAMILIAR RING
Last week, sports editors at U.S. affiliates of the The Associated Press voted “Tiger Woods” – his personal AND golf failures – the top story of 2010.
It may have been in People Magazine but not the nation’s sports sections.
Instead, the story that wouldn’t and won’t go away was and is “Concussion,” just like last year. And not just “NFL Concussions,” as was voted sixth this year by those same editors.
For its Feb. 8 issue, in anticipation of the Super Bowl, Time Magazine featured a cover with a deflated football and the caption, “The Most Dangerous Game.”
Nine months later, Sports Illustrated devoted a cover to “Concussions,” again focusing on football.
In between, however….
…. Twins first baseman Justin Morneau suffered a concussion on July 7 – and was unable to play the remainder of the season.
….MLS star Taylor Twellman of the New England Revolution ended his soccer career at the age of 30 because of the lingering effects of a concussion suffered two years earlier.
In short, there is more, far more, to concussion than football. The injury occurs on the gridiron at higher rates than in any other sport – soccer and hockey aren’t far behind. On the other hand, football players seem to recover faster because of the helmets which supposed experts claim are inadequate.
Some of the attention football receives is appropriate because it offers the perfect laboratory for study of the injury. There is a large number of participants. Helmets can be equipped with sensors to measure the forces imparted by blocking and tackling.
An ongoing study by Purdue researchers of Lafayette-area high school players wearing such helmets has been receiving national attention since October. The reason? The measurable brain damage those researchers found among football players who had experienced high-force collisions but had NOT been concussed. The Purdue scientists would like to expand their investigation to soccer players but have no device – yet -- for measuring forces to the head in that game.
Another Indiana university attracted notice for its treatment of concussion – or lack thereof. On Sept. 11, Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist left the Michigan game with blurred vision and amnesia. However, once his symptoms cleared, he was given a diagnosis of “optical migraine” and allowed to return. Such “relabeling” has been the source of ridicule by concussion experts nationwide ever since.
At the professional level, the NFL has experienced a 21 percent increase in concussions this season. Have they been hitting that much harder in 2010? Given the fines being levied this year for illegal hits to the head, hardly. The increased numbers are directly attributable to better awareness and understanding. A genuine silver lining to this cloud that won’t be clearing any time soon.
John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .