Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 25th 2013 Contents A69
Friday, October 25, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Recently, there has been much discussion
and research on the risk of permanent brain
damage, caused by repetitive concussions
and blows to the head in sports. Not a jour-
nal that I ve picked up in recent months
has been without an article highlighting
the increased risk of brain injury in Amer-
ican football, soccer, and boxing. We all are
familiar with Muhammed Ali s punch-
drunken state from boxing.
Some weeks ago PBS aired a ground-
breaking documentary, titled League of Denial:
the NFL s Concussion Crisis. This devastated
the National Football League in the USA, as
it investigated suspicious deaths and early-
onset dementia-type symptoms in both active
and retired players.
The problem began when retired NFL
superstar for the Pittsburg Steelers, Mike
Webster, who suffered severe mood swings
and early-onset dementia, sued the NFL for
his condition, which he believed was caused
by repetitive concussions during his career.
After his death, Dr Bennet Omalu performed
his autopsy and found high levels of CTE
(chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in his
brain, the cause of his dementia, attributed
to football. He published his findings.
This led to a massive cover-up by the NFL.
They denied the fact that football could cause
CTE, discredited and slandered Dr Omalu s
Head injuries---A concern for sport
expertise and reputation. They even hired their own
"inside" doctors to issue continued denials that football
and brain injury were correlated.
However, the premature deaths of more football
players heightened the investigation and Dr Ann McGee,
a neuropathologist at Boston University began studying
the brains of these deceased athletes. She found patterns
of CTE in 45 of the 46 brains she studied. These
included Tom McHale, who died of a drug overdose
at age 45, Junior Seau who committed suicide in 2012,
a 21-year-old college player who also committed suicide,
and an 18-year-old high school player who died after
his fourth concussion.
Still, the NFL continued to go to great lengths to
deny this evidence. An internal study conducted by
the NFL s own doc-
tors was leaked to a
reporter. In the study,
the doctors reported
that NFL players have
a higher rate of
dementia and mem-
ory problems than
the general popula-
tion. When confront-
ed about this, the
NFL continued to
deny the problem,
calling the study
The NFL eventu-
ally settled a massive
lawsuit filed by 4,500
retired NFL players,
after realizing that it
would not go away. Yet still they admitted no guilt.
This powerful documentary, available on the Frontline
Web site, has raised some important questions for us
all. What other less well-researched sports have the
potential to cause such injury? There has been some
research, which has implied that repetitive heading of
the ball in soccer can lead to similar brain damage. For
players like Abby Wambach who scores more of her
goals with her head, this is cause for serious concern.
What kind of damage is occurring in youngsters learning
the game, doing repetitive heading drills throughout
the years? Parents, coaches and associations have some
difficult decisions to make.
Another question concerns governing bodies. Are
sporting associations responsible for their athletes, or
is it "play at your own risk?" I suppose one can argue
both sides, but the "play at your own risk" falls short
in my books. At the very least, these organisations
should be responsible for player education on the risks
of the game so that the players may make informed
decisions about their participation and healthcare.
However, these sporting associations have the ability
to conduct research. They have access to the coaching
and medical expertise and the power to change the
rules of the game, structure drills and design techniques
that reduce the risk of player injury in sports like Amer-
ican football and soccer. Just as there is massive research
about the prevention of ACL injuries in soccer, with
proper injury prevention recommendations and tackling
rules, so too should there be such approaches addressing
more life-threatening risks like brain injuries.
The NFL handled the research data very poorly.
Rather than embracing the information and addressing
the risks as best it could, it continued to put athletes
at risk. For us in Trinidad, we don t have to do the
research, and reinvent the wheel. While we do not
play American football, we do have other sports that
put athletes at risk for brain injuries. We can be effective
on a small scale. Access to proper safety equipment
and enforcement of rules through competent refereeing
is essential. Athlete safety is a team effort, led by the
Carla Rauseo, DPT, C.S.C.S. is a Doctor of Physical
Therapy and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
at Total Rehabilitation Centre Limited in San Juan.
Are sporting associations
responsible for their athletes?
Or is it play at your own risk?
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