HBO’s Real Sports Features Concussion Crisis in Youth Football Players

Over the past three years, 17 high school football players have died after sustaining head injuries while playing. A similar situation in the NFL would have caused a national uproar, so how has this been allowed to happen to our youth?

Take a look at trailer for this riveting episode of HBO’s series Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, which is airing several times on HBO through mid-December 2016, as well as On Demand. The episode as a whole explores why there are such inconsistencies in protecting professional athletes versus the youngest players.

“Concussion” Movie is Just the Beginning of the Brain Injury Conversation

by Tony Doran, Psy.D.
HeadFirst Concussion Care Program Director
and Ann-Marie Sedor, HeadFirst Concussion Care Marketing

The much-anticipated movie “Concussion” is scheduled for release this year on Christmas Day, and already there is Oscar Award talk for Will Smith, who plays the role of Dr. Bennet Omalu. It was Dr. Omalu who discovered the tragic progressive degenerative effects of years of multiple concussions in NFL players, which he named CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

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Bennet Omalu, M.D., (L) and actor Will Smith attend the screening of the major motion film, “Concussion,” on November 23, 2015. (VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)

The film highlights the NFL’s initial response of anger and denial. Indeed, since Dr. Omalu’s discovery in 2002, the NFL has experienced lawsuits, exposés, and finger-pointing in general. Now, 13 years later, bystanders have watched the NFL’s reaction to this scientific research unfold in a manner not unlike many stages of grief – first denial, then anger, on to bargaining and, finally, acceptance. (Although, the League is still working on fully coming to terms with this last step.)

For their part, the NFL hasn’t had much reaction to the movie, preferring to keep the controversy at arm’s length. While Dr. Omalu has vocalized his opposition to children playing football until they are legally and emotionally old enough to understand the danger of putting their brains at risk, the NFL can’t afford to lose any of their reported $7+ billion in annual revenue.

Yet, while the debate rages on, two points are patently clear from years of scientific research: that children repeatedly hitting their heads during developmental years is potentially very harmful, and that college and professional football players can face significant health consequences from playing the sport.

But just how serious are families going to be about keeping their children from playing football? Indeed, this is just the beginning of the conversation about brain injuries.

As a community-based concussion clinic that has treated more than 30,000 traumatic brain injury patients over the past three years, HeadFirst Concussion Care has seen multiple reasons for why people sustain concussions. And while football is a violent sport, soccer, lacrosse and hockey also put our youth at risk for head trauma.

And again, this is just half of the dialogue. HeadFirst’s data shows that traumatic brain injuries sustained while playing organized sports with a concussion protocol in place (high school or college sports) account for a relatively small percentage of our patients. In fact, in as many as 80 percent of our patients, concussions are sustained by other mechanisms of injury. These include non-organized sports-related injuries (bike riding, skateboarding, trampolining, skiing, pick-up or other informal recreational games), slips and falls, motor vehicle accidents, and assaults.

The key message is that the people must understand that traumatic brain injuries can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Not just kids. Not just athletes. And certainly, not just NFL players. And since anyone is at risk, everyone must understand the proper protocols for healing an injured brain.

On a final note to end the year, my holiday wish is that families, schools, and employers begin to talk about head injuries and follow traumatic brain injury protocols to keep all children and adults safe.

Don’t Give Up! You Will Recover After a Concussion

by Sherray Holland, PA-C
HeadFirst Concussion Care Provider

Editor’s Note: Following is a first-hand account from HeadFirst Concussion Care Provider Sherray Holland, PA-C (pictured below), about her own experience with brain trauma while engaged in the most routine of activities — grocery shopping.

Sherray_HollandI want to start off and say that this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I have worked with concussion patients since 2008. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a concussion each year and seek help, but we believe this number is actually doubled because so many people still do not get checked out.

When I was younger (I am in my mid 30s now!), I was told to “shake it off” and keep playing or not go to sleep after hitting my head. Sound familiar?! So much has changed since those days as more education and research has been done about concussion. However, I think we still have that mentality when it comes to ourselves and we end up trying to push hard through the pain.

Now, I would like to share my story. A few years ago, I was texting and walking into a store in a shopping center. As I stepped onto the curb, my shoe got stuck and I tripped!  I could not gain control (picture my arms flailing and trying to stand). Then I suddenly realize I was going to fall…and hard. I kept thinking, “This is going to hurt.”  My next memory was lying face up with a few people looking down at me in panic. I remember being upset because an older man said “Boy that was a bad fall, are you okay?” Embarrassed, I thanked everyone, dusted myself off, grabbed my boot (which came off) and took my purse. My head hurt but I went in anyway to get a few items. I figured “Hey, I work with brain injuries so I will check myself out later.”

You can imagine my annoyance when I was stopped by a security officer. He said, “Ma’am, are you ok?” Frustrated, I said, “Why is everyone so concerned, I just fell!” The next few words have always stuck in my head. He replied, “You may want to get checked out, I can call for help. You have been wandering the store for two hours.” I rolled my eyes but I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. I was in shock! I was bleeding down my head, onto my face. I saw cuts and bruising to my forehead and left cheek. My knee was bleeding through my jeans. I was a mess! I ran out of the store, leaving my empty cart.

I went home and cleaned myself up. I figured since I was a medical professional, I could treat myself. I knew I needed to rest. I took medication for my headache. I took the next couple days off and slept. I returned to work full-time and cared for my infant son as usual.

Easy peasy, right? Wrong! I struggled tremendously, especially with my memory. I could not remember anything:  What a patient asked me two minutes ago; what my supervisor just told me to do; what I read in a chart or typed on the computer, not to mention at home with my son and family. I had headaches from trying to think too hard. I was so tired all the time. I was emotional and frustrated because I could not do it all anymore!

Finally, I gave in. I confided to my supervisor and doctor because I wasn’t getting better. They echoed what I already knew:  RELAX. REST. WRITE THINGS DOWN, etc. Once I cut back my hours, gradually went back to work and did not stress about things at work or my life I immediately saw improvements. It took me longer because I did not want to slow down but I am fully recovered.

Here is the bottom line: If you have been seen and told you have a concussion, please do the brain rest and gradually go back to the activities, whether it is work, school or sports or all of the above. Trust me, I’ve been there.  I wanted to go back to my regular activities immediately but it simply is not the way to go. You will NOT be giving yourself a fair shot if your brain does not have the time to heal completely.

Think of your brain like a sprained ankle for a second. You would not want to hurry and start walking on it right away. I think we forget how important it is because we cannot see the brain injury. Recovery time can vary and depends on other things such as your past medical history, symptoms, etc. But the sooner you seek help and follow the guidance of your provider, the sooner you will improve!

Know the signs and symptoms of concussion. If you or someone you know has had a head injury and is not getting better, please contact HeadFirst Concussion Care at 855-SIT IT OUT (748-4868) to speak with someone and/or set up an appointment for an evaluation. Visit myHeadFirst.com for more information on concussion.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story, and I would love to hear yours.

‘Head Games’ Documentary Takes Detailed Look at Sports Concussions

A new documentary is being released nationwide today that could launch the concussion issue into the stratosphere. Head Games, from producer Steve James (Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters) and producer Bruce Sheridan, takes an in-depth look at the devastating and long-term effects of concussions in all sports.

As a feature-length film, Head Games has time to venture farther into the topic of concussion than most websites, articles or public service announcements. The trailer features compelling scenes about what professional and young athletes are willing to risk to play the game, and the consequences of their decisions.

The movie is heavily centered on the story of Harvard-educated former professional wrestler Christopher Nowinski, who, when diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, began a quest to better understand the condition. After a visit with renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Robert Cantu, Nowinski began to learn the medical reasoning behind his traumatic brain injury.

Nowinski co-founded the Sports Legacy Institute with Dr. Cantu and, in addition to serving as SLI’s executive director, is co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (BU CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine.

Head Games calls concussions “the public health issue of our time” — a statement that’s truly more fact than opinion. Like the crises of seatbelts and smoking in years past, and their subsequent legislation, traumatic brain injuries have been called an “epidemic” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and dozens of states have related laws to protect children. Consequently, while this film is one of the first documentaries to seriously examine the issue of concussions, it will hardly be the last.

Visit the official Head Games website for more information, including a list of theaters and On Demand providers.

White Sox’s Konerko Felt Helpless & Depressed After Concussion

Last month, Chicago White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko suffered a concussion after being struck in the right temple by Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson. After a gradual return to play, which included working out a little more than a week after the concussion, Konerko is now back on the team in full force.

What’s refreshing about Konerko, aside from the fact he took his concussion seriously enough to stay out of the game until he healed, is his honesty about the alarming effects of concussion.

In a video interview with Comcast Sportsnet, Konerko described feeling helpless, depressed, unmotivated and lethargic immediately after his brain injury.

“You just feel like a different human being. You just feel like out of the world. It’s just a weird feeling,” said Konerko, who took the ImPACT test after his injury to help diagnose the concussion. He described his emotional state not feeling like himself. “You almost feel, you don’t care about anything.” Konerko also said it hurt for several days just to shift his eyes.

In the video below (will open in a different page), Konerko provides an incredible glimpse into the physiological and psychological symptoms of brain injury.

The one part we take exception to is Konerko’s account [beginning at 1:16] of being blindsided by the actual impact which allowed for a “better chance of getting rattled and the brain moving.” The fact is we know that nothing, not even anticipating a blow, can prevent the brain from moving inside the skull.

Concussion TV Offers Online Videos and Webcasts

Concussion TVAs concussion awareness rises, so does the variety of educational resources available. Internet TV Channel, part of the Sports Pro Community Network (SPCN TV) is an online network committed to bringing athletes, parents, coaches, athletic trainers, personal trainers, medical and sports business professionals the latest information on concussions and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The website is filled with free videos and webcasts featuring renowned specialists and parents of youth athletes discussing this “silent injury.”

A Message from Kelley – Fake Dr.’s Note

I recently read an article that made my jaw drop. It basically stated there are websites that will produce a fake doctor’s signature so an athlete will be allowed to return back to play. It really got me thinking; is the pressure in today’s society to “suck it” up and play greater than the potential risk of further injury?

I mean, this is your brain we’re talking about! I couldn’t believe students would take advantage of something like this. Then I realized the pressure to return to sports is huge.

When I first got my concussion my team would say, “we can’t wait to have you back”, and “practice isn’t the same without you”. It was killing me; I was missing so much of what I thought was a ‘crucial’ high school experience. I got to the point where I even  told the school’s Physical Trainer that I was “feeling a ton better” and expected resume regular activity within the next few weeks. In reality, I was feeling the same, if not worse.

At that point I didn’t realized the seriousness of what could have happened if I returned to play too soon. Now, being more educated on the subject, I can’t help thinking how stupid it was for wanting to go back. Maybe it was just a normal response from a normal teenager?  Maybe I just wanted to get back to normal and appear ‘super-human’, like an athlete on tv. Someone who could “tough-it-out” like a pro. I hate to think what could have happened if I had played before being cleared.  It makes me wonder what happens to athletes who play after being cleared by a fake doctor.

Concussion awareness and education is the only way for them to fully understand the impact of their choices.