“Concussion-proof” Football Helmets may be Misleading & Dangerous says NYS AG

NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman

Last week, New York State’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a statement essentially debunking the myth that football helmets can prevent concussions.  He even went a step further and offered the power of his office to help people who may have been duped by false advertising related to helmets and the ever-increasing number of “add ons” that manufacturers claim will help.

 “Any claims suggesting that a particular helmet is “anti-concussive” or “concussion-proof” may be misleading and potentially dangerous by giving players and parents a false sense of security.”

In his official statement he makes several points.  In effect, he used the very robust state Concussion Management and Awareness Act that went into effect in June 2012 to bolster the following statements:

Players, parents and coaches must be trained to see the symptoms and risks of concussion.

  • It is extremely important to recognize the signs of concussion and remove the player immediately from the game.

  • New York State law requires that players be removed from play until they are asymptomatic for a minimum of 24 hours and have written approval from their physician to return to play.

  • The number of concussions can be significantly reduced with modifications to practice format – such as learning to avoid head-on “collisions” on the field of play.

  • Reducing the number of hits is instrumental to reducing the risk of concussion because of the cumulative risk from repeated hits. Limit the amount of contact in practice and forbid drills that involve full-speed, head-on blocking and tackling that begins with players lined up more than three yards apart.

  • Players need to be trained to focus on techniques that minimize head-to-head hits. Coaches and referees must strictly enforce penalties against such behavior.

It is refreshing to see someone of the stature and at the level of the State AG come out and protect consumers and our youth.  The writing should be on the wall as the number of lawsuits against the NFL, NCAA, helmet manufacturers and others begin to mount.  I am afraid it’s only a matter of time before the state’s schools, athletic departments, and recreation leagues take a hit as well.  Questions that might generate such a lawsuit:

“Why did you invest in expensive helmets that we know are useless?”

“Why are you not changing and adapting practice and play techniques to be current with known risks?”

“Why did you buy gizmos and gadgets with our restricted budget when there is no evidence that they are effective?”

“Why didn’t you sit out my daughter when she clearly had signs of a concussion?”

“Did you really think it couldn’t be a concussion because she was wearing a helmet?”

Says Schneiderman: “Ensuring that manufacturers don’t mislead the public and endanger young New Yorkers is a key concern for my office. Just as important, we must work to educate young athletes and their parents about how to reduce the risk of concussion and detect early warning signs on the field.”

Holding those in positions of responsibility to account is, in my opinion, government working at its best.

And then the final zinger in the last line of the attorney general’s statement should really make those with commercial interests in brain injury sit up and listen:

“If you feel you’ve been a victim of this type of situation or any other type of consumer fraud, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Helpline at 1-800-771-7755.”

What Matters Now in Football…

ath trainerIn light of the controversial NFL settlement with its 4,500 players, it is important for parents and young athletes to keep a perspective on the issues.  We are lucky to live in a country where individuals and interest groups can effect change. Change is what will be required at all levels of contact sport and in the minds and practices of those who care for, coach, raise and nurture young athletes.

The NFL suit may be a good step and provide some much needed financial assistance for many of the suffering players and families, but it is just a small step in what needs to be a veritable cultural shift.

So, a few things to keep in mind:

  • Exercise is good for kids (and adults).  Obesity and its complications are far more common than concussions and also have life-altering side effects. We don’t want to prevent folks from being active
  • Team sports are good for kids of all ages.  Comeraderie, responsibilities, the ability to sacrifice (one’s time and effort, but not one’s mind or future) and the resulting fitness are all important aspects of the team experience.
  • Concussions are not completely preventable (don’t be swayed by helmet makers; they don’t have the answer yet and probably won’t ever) but their frequency can be reduced and their severity diminished.  How? By altering the way athletes play, for one.
  • Will there be enough trickle-down effect from the NFL suit to make a difference in sports culture? Will colleges, schools, and rec leagues adopt new approaches?
  • Can we continue to make the changes in how we respond to injuries so that we practice primary prevention (e.g.different rules of the game in various contact sports) as well as secondary prevention (preventing complications of head injury once they have happened)?
  • The Four Rs: Recognize, Respond, Rest and Reassess are the cornerstones of managing concussions well and preventing future head injury.  At this point in time we have no other tried and tested means of treatment.  But one thing we know for sure: going back in the game, the physical as well as the mental game (school, work, college) prematurely is asking for trouble.

Prayers Not Enough For Victims of Second Impact Syndrome

Tyler Lewellen

Tyler Lewellen, 16, died after being involved in a tackle in a scrimmage football game last week.

I am a spiritual person.  Active prayer is not a part of my everyday, but I understand prayer. I understand that we can pray for forgiveness, for something we want or need, for solace or for understanding.

I was stunned today by a YouTube video entitled “Pray for Tyler” (no longer available on YouTube). Tyler Lewellen, 16 years old, is a California high school football player who lost consciousness shortly after a pileup tackle in a scrimmage last Thursday and died five days later, never having regained consciousness.  He and his family certainly deserve the prayers of those around them along with their devastated community.

But as they seek solace in their grief, the wider world also needs to seek understanding of a less spiritual variety.  What the hell happened to Tyler?  It’s okay to be angry. Because Tyler represents the 25th high school football player in the U.S. to die as a direct result of his football-related injury in the past nine years.  We need medical and legal answers, not just prayer for metaphysical questions.

Some things we know.  It may not be just an accident. It may not be a mere fluke.  Unless a post mortem investigation shows an unusual cardiac or other abnormality, there is a good chance it’s called second impact syndrome.  It’s a known quantity and what we need to find out is whether Tyler’s brain was injured prior to this apparently inconsequential hit during the pileup.  Second impact syndrome can happen hours, days or weeks following an initial hit (to the head, neck or body) that may induce “sub concussive” injury to the brain.  For reasons that are not well understood, a subsequent blow or blows then puts in motion a dramatic cascade of metabolic and anatomic shifts that can lead to brain hemorrhage, seizures, loss of consciousness and death.

It is precisely scenarios like these that have been the impetus for almost every state in the United States to mandate the development of concussion policies in public schools.

So what the coaches, the parents, the trainers, the lawyers and the community in California need to do is not to look at the video of the final scrimmage, but at any evidence from plays and games, on the field and off, that there may have been a primary injury.  Was an apparently minor hit missed?  Did he show any signs or symptoms of “minor” head trauma before that final day of practice?  Should he have been resting, on the bench, recuperating?  How was he doing academically?  Was he forgetful? Was he different?

We may never know, but we have to go looking for the evidence.  This way the community will learn along with the whole country.   Only then will the possible disgrace that this represents be turned into grace.