Heads in the Game

Tail to dog: NFL helmets being reviewed 12-8

Wednesday, 08 December 2010 08:41 PM Written by

In a New York gathering where expert and panelist Dr. Robert Cantu asked that the NFL sever its ties with the Riddell helmet manufacturer in what amounted to a monopoly, the league's head, neck and spine medical committee today began looking into preventive measures that include opening up players' choices for headgear.

The panel spent part of the day meeting with military, helmet manufacturer, engineering and even NASCAR officials to seek out new and improved methods to safeguard players' brains -- and, as with anything related to the NFL and concussions, there is a trickle-down effect to the other levels of football in America.

NFL.com reported that the summit was held barely one block from the league's New York headquarters.

Another expert on the committee, Latrobe native and onetime Steelers graduate-assistant athletic trainer Kevin Guskiewicz, suggested different helmets for different positions, all the better to protect them.

"There are different approaches, that is clear," it quoted commissioner Roger Goodell, who sat in on the meeting.

According to an Associated Press report, NFL officials estimate estimates that 75 percent of helmets used this season are made by Riddell, 23 percent Schutt, 1 to 2 percent by Xenith, and a handful by Adams USA.

North Hills HIgh product Mark Kelso, longtime safety with the Buffalo Bills, also attended the meeting as a representative for a helmet manufacturer. He endured several concussions and, as a result, wore a soft-shell cap atop his helmets to try to protect himself.

The Washington Post quoted Goodell as saying he hopes new rules will be enacted before next season to safeguard heads.

In other news:

> The New Jersey governor did sign that concussion legislation... we noted the expectation of the signing in this thread Tuesday.

> A Virginia study talks about girls' increased incidence in concussions, but experts warn that much of that is due to a simple fact: girls are more honest, and boys will hide/deceive to keep on playing.

> Certified athletic trainers? Hmm, now where did I read a story recently talking about their role on a football sidelines. Oh, yeah, the Post-Gazette....

> At the same national certified athletic trainer conference where they announced their youth-football partnership, experts again repeated a grim tale that I have written about concussions nowadays: They're calling it an "epidemic."




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NJ next with concussion law? 12-7

Tuesday, 07 December 2010 09:23 AM Written by

With Pennsylvania's proposed bill stalled in the Senate, it looks like our neighbors to the east will be the next state to enact a law for concussion and brain-injury safety in youth sports.

Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to sign the bill at New Meadowlands Stadium today.

It sounds as if it includes the standard coverage for public and private high-school athletes: removal from play, return to play, education for coaches and medical personnel, etc.

One key difference, apparently, was that Pennsylvania's law covered youth sports in addition. It also contains the language about school districts penalizing coaches who violate the bill, which may well be part of the reason it remains hung up.

Other stories du jour:

> The NFL has a traveling panel that talks about mental health and brain injuries such as concussion.

> Across the commonwealth, the Philadelphia Daily News takes a broad look at concussions in youth brains.

> Another country heard from: Concussions in Ireland sports.

> Here's a story about Latrobe native and onetime Steelers graduate assistant athletic trainer Kevin Guskiewicz, an expert in concussion study. . . and someone whom I am scheduled to interview this Friday (we've been conversing for years on the subject). He'll speak on helmet accelerometers/sensors and more for the next installment of the concussion series, scheduled for Dec. 26.



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Hello Heath Miller 12-6

Monday, 06 December 2010 07:00 AM Written by

The sight of Steelers tight end Heath Miller laying on the Baltimore field, his left arm suspended in front of his facemask and fingers moving in spasms . . . that's a frightening portrait in concussions and brain injuries.

True and certain, it was a much more relieving picture to see him moments later arise from the grass and walk off the field.

Yet that collision painfully illustrates -- defenseless player after an incompletion, thudding shoulder-pad-to-helmet collision -- how brutal football, much less any game, can be on a head.

When he awakes this morning and reports to the Steelers' South Side facility, the team medical and athletic-trainer staff likely will administer an ImPACT retest to check his baseline. A medical exam, to check for headaches, memory loss, dizziness, balance issues and any other signs or symptoms, then will lead to a full evaluation about Miller's concussion and health for the foreseeable future. It's a safe bet he will be symptomatic for some time.

In that vein, let's look over a couple of the latest media entries on the subject, one a tragic tale and the other a sad story but one that an ex-athlete can still write herself:

> The Kansas City Star reports that late Kansas football star Nathan Stiles may have sustained a subdural hematoma earlier in October, causing him to miss games under a doctor's orders -- though, Stiles' mother said, a CT scan never showed that injury. So when he got another such brain bleed on a hit in a game at month's end, a coroner ruled, that contributed to his collapse and, the next day, his death.

> A senior at a Connecticut high school writes about her lingering problems from four concussions that caused her to retire from athletics -- and, I repeat, she is a high-school senior. Becca Bobrow is a lovely writer, too.The headline: "Confessions from a Teen-Age Concussion Queen."


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Klausing's suggestions 12-5

Sunday, 05 December 2010 08:00 AM Written by

Chuck Klausing knows football.

As he notes below, he has been in the game for the past 70 years. A scholastic coaching legend locally, he remains the only coach in WPIAL football history to win a half-dozen championships in succession, 1954-59. His Braddock team compiled a 56-game winless streak that is still the longest in WPIAL history and second-longest in the state. He coached Pitcairn and Braddock, then graduated to college. There he was the head coach at both Carnegie Mellon and IUP and an assistant at such Division I-A programs as Pitt, West Virginia, Rutgers and Army.

This is almost unsolicited. Coach Klausing, a longtime email correspondent on this concussion front, sent this page of ruminations earlier this week. At my behest, he agreed to share them with a wider audience.

Again, this is a football coach who stays in touch still -- he talks about modern-day NFL officials who privately admit that part of the reason they call so many head hits nowadays relates to fears they hold about receiving poor grades from their supervisors.

Herewith, his comments:

I have played or coached organized Football since 1939. And I have seen some great improvements to make the game safer.

Coaches are better trained with Clinics-Books-DVDs, etc.

Officials are better trained. In 1939 we had only three officials but you see as many as seven on a game now.

Players are better conditioned and know how to block and tackle and make the game safer.

Rules. . . have changed. Helmets were not required until 1943, and I see that good rules are made by associations/committees/coaches to prevent injuries.

Fields. . . have changed as well. Our first chore in pre-season was to pick up rocks and fill in holes on our field. Many artificial-turf fields [and better maintained grass fields] make the game safer.

Equipment? You should see the difference from 1939 to today. Companies are constantly making better equipment. In 1939, my helmet suspension was broke, and I put the rubber
sponge that my mother used to wash walls in the top of the helmet.

Trainers and Medical Professionals are better skilled. I took a course in First Aid, and we never had a Doctor or Ambulance at a game. We had no cell phone and we had to
personally carry the injured for help.

Today, with all these improvements, I see the need for more. I keep hearing from the Doctors the concern for Concussions. They suggest we play in a 2-point [upright] stance and only

wear a helmet when scrimmaging or playing a game. Maybe it's not such a bad idea.

The Future?

Let's hope we learn from the past. In 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt [amid 18 deaths in one season, and with a son, Theodore Jr., playing at Harvard] called a meeting of coaches to eliminate or fix the game to make it safe.

If I may be allowed to paraphrase an ending for Coach Klausing: 105 years later, everyone has more work to do.

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Coming Sunday: Klausing's concussion suggestions

Saturday, 04 December 2010 07:30 PM Written by

A local football coaching legend has agreed to share a few of his views on the game of yesterday and today, particularly where it relates to brain injuries.

Chuck Klausing's comments will appear tomorrow on this blog, much thanks to him.

Another football veteran has emailed in and graciously consented to put together his harrowing tale through concussions, brain surgeries, and more. That will come later.

Anyone else who cares to jot down their thoughts, their family tales, their experiences through football and any other games, feel free to add them in Comments or email them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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Coroner makes ruling over Kansas HS player 12-4

Saturday, 04 December 2010 08:00 AM Written by

The Halloween-weekend death of a Kansas high-school football player was ascribed to a subdural hematoma, the same brain bleed that claimed the Linesville, Pa., sophomore on whom our series focused in Part 2 (see links to the left).

The Johnson County coroner on Thursday announced his finding, and it left some questions unanswered:

1. Was it related to an Oct. 1 concussion suffered by Nathan Stiles of Spring Hill High? He already had been cleared to play and, according to his family, underwent a CT scan. . . which should show such a brain bleed, if it indeed occurred then.

2. Did he suffer the hematoma in a wild, 99-72 victory over Osawatomiez? Certainly, he seemed to be injured somehow at sometime in that game, in which he scored a touchdown. As The Associated Press wrote: But then he left the field on his own after hitting his head on the ground while being tackled by two opponents late in the second quarter. He collapsed, and a day later he died.

The family said in a statement: "Just as Nathan's life and faith have touched many, we are equally hopeful that any medical findings can be useful in the continuing effort to prevent and treat head injuries in all sports."


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Helmet safety 12-3

Friday, 03 December 2010 06:30 AM Written by

First thing to remember: Helmets for so long have been designed, with little governmental intervention, to protect football heads primarily from traumatic brain injuries.

Second thing: There is no helmet for the brain, in order to best protect it from concussion.

But is there a happy medium between those two, critical things?

Sounds as if a few folks in Washington, D.C.,  aim to try to find out.

The head of the National Consumer Product Safety Commission, Inez Tenenbaum, testified Thursday before a Senate panel that her group will work to make sure helmets improve -- part of that path being an improvement in industry's the standards and quarter-century-old testing methods.

"I will use the bully-pulpit as chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and we will do all that we can to make sure that the standards-making organization is looking at all of the best engineering and science," she said. "I'm very concerned as you are about the safety of people and the number of concussions.'

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or NOCSAE, is the industry's nonprofit corporation that sets the standards. It executive director, Mike Oliver, told The Associated Press that his self-policed organization always welcomed input from "anybody who has the resources and qualifications." He added that NOCSAE has worked for the past eight years  to try to see if a standard change could be enacted to address concussions.



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'Virtual biopsy' part of busy news day 12-2

Thursday, 02 December 2010 12:07 AM Written by

Follow the chemicals.

That may be one key to the concussion/CTE puzzle.

Now using a special kind of MRI called magnetic resonance spectroscopy, researchers from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital report that they've been able to look into the chemical imbalances of brains that could be concussed.

They scanned the brains of five former professional athletes -- three of them football players -- and compared them to scans of otherwise healthy people who weren't athletes, and the researchers said they discovered chemical changes that failed to appear in the second group.
'Virtual biopsy' is what they're dubbing this procedure, as scary as that may sound. As discussed yesterday at the Radiological Society of North America convention in Chicago, this scan may well help to diagnose, treat and perhaps even avoid long-term disabilities involving brain injuries -- such as the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) first found by then-Allegheny County coroner's office neuropathologist Dr. Bennett Omalu and then again in autopsies involving ex-Steelers Mike Webster, Justin Strzelczyk and Terry Long, among others.
Study leader Dr. Alexander Lin: It "could help athletes of all ages and levels, as well as war veterans who suffer mild brain injuries, many of which go undetected."

> Meantime, there also came a new study from Boston and Columbus, Ohio, where Dr. Dawn Comstock -- quoted in our trainers story last Sunday -- helped to find, among other things, one statistic that stands out to me after all my purely unscientific research: only 2 percent of the high-school athletes with concussions had symptoms lasting longer than one month. In reporting this series, I've come across dozens in Pittsburgh alone. The experts, who see as many as 20-plus patients per day, may come across a dozen deemed post-concussion sufferers each day.

This joint study, published in December's issue of the American Journal of Sports Medicine, also found:

1.)  the majority of concussions resulted from contact with another player -- 76 percent

2.)  they usually were the result of a head-to-head collision -- 53 percent

3.) the most common symptom reported was headache -- 94 percent (However, UPMC Sports Medicine concussion experts find that the most common denominator is memory loss rather than the previously expected unconsciousness, though this study reported only 25 percent reported amnesia and 5 percent unconsciousness. One potential answer: they don't remember the memory loss. Seriously.)

4.) the next-most common symptoms are . . . dizziness or unsteadiness -- 75 percent

                                                                    difficulty concentrating -- 57 percent

                                                                    confusion or disorientation -- 46 percent.

Here are the numbers that surprise this uneducated observer: Symptoms resolved for most of the athletes (83 percent) within one week and a sizeable group (27 percent) within 24 hours.

> New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall has asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission to study football helmet safety.

> An NHL star who would be the poster boy today, being among the first athletes to have concussions force him into retirement, Pat LaFontaine coaches his offspring in youth hockey and offers advice to the many concussion sufferers he counsels: "Make sure you are not having any recurring symptoms before you're active again. Do not go back on the ice, do not go back to work, until you are 100 percent cleared and symptom-free. Once you have a concussion and return, that's when the real damage can be done."

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