Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Sep 2006

Concussions Need to Be Dealt with Seriously

We've got two new columns this year that will appear only on FOXSports.com: Doug Farrar's Manic Monday and what we're calling "The MDS Report." Basically, it's just Michael David Smith writing about whatever is on his mind that week. The subject of the debut column: the NFL's dangerously blase attitude about concussions.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 15 Sep 2006

34 comments, Last at 22 Sep 2006, 10:10am by MJB


by Barnas (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 4:28pm

Totally agree. It's mad to have people running back out into full contact days after suffering a brain injury, even - especially?- if they "feel fine".

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 4:48pm

I like how the rugby rule puts the onus on the doctors.

the fact that they need to publish a written report means that its their job/liability if they let a player go back too early. Should make them hold players out longer.

I agree with Mike's suggestion that a baseline should be taken at the beginning of each season.

by MCS (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 4:58pm

Credit where credit is due. The baseline suggestion was credited to Harry Carson, not MDS.

That aside, fabulous article. For years now, I have enjoyed the writings of Mr. Smith.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 5:18pm

Was Green using one of the new helmets that are supposed to alleviate the risk of concussions?

by Mahercor (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 5:32pm

The head and neck specialist for the N.E Patriots has been administering a orthodic retainer like oral appliance for over twenty five years. The NFL's own stats confirm the proceedures effectiveness in reducing concusssion, dizzness, the sensation of seeing stars, stingers, and other syptoms of mild head trauma. The Sept 27 issue of ESPN the magazine will address the politics of concussion in the NFL. Go to www.mahercor.com for more info

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 5:35pm

Re 4:

I don't know but I read somewhere that Ben Roethlisperger refuses to wear one.

Just occurred to me that people might think I made the above statement in jest. No. I actually read that.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 5:48pm

Of course, the sad truth is that the majority of fans (and coaches, teammates, and owners) are more concerned with winning today than preventing health problems tomorrow. A broken bone definitely keeps a player out. A concussion can be played with. It's the same reason why athletes bulk up to levels that are biologically unsafe in the long term but give a competitive advantage in the short term, or use performance enhancing drugs (e.g. steroids) that have long term health risks. Winning right away is veiwed as the most important, and health is valued only as far as it helps the team win.

The problem with having mandated sitting out periods is that it could lead to players (or unethical coaches/trainers) concealing injuries. Imagine a situation where players are required to sit out a minimum of three weeks if they recieve a concussion, and a team is in Week 16 with a playoff-berth-decidng game the following week and possible playoffs after that. Imagine a key player, say the #1 WR or the pro-bowl starting SS, gets a mild concussion--not unconsciousness, but definitely feeling woozy. There's going to be a lot of pressure on the coach, the training staff, the organization, and even the player himself, to deny that he actually got a concussion, but that he just got "shook up a little". And if that's his story, who are the trainers to contradict him?

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 5:54pm

I seem to recall a case of a coach trying to hide the concussion of one of his players already.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 6:16pm

"It’s the same reason why athletes bulk up to levels that are biologically unsafe in the long term but give a competitive advantage in the short term, or use performance enhancing drugs (e.g. steroids) that have long term health risks. Winning right away is veiwed as the most important, and health is valued only as far as it helps the team win."

Thats got nothing to do with winning, and everything to do with putting up a year or two of ridiculous stats so you can get that big payout come Free Agency time.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 7:49pm

Thats got nothing to do with winning, and everything to do with putting up a year or two of ridiculous stats so you can get that big payout come Free Agency time.

And that's why clubs cut anybody who's suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs?

You know better, Rich. Teams are happy to not ask why their players are bigger and stronger. And they're willing to put players who are "dinged up" on the field if they feel like it will help them win.

Ben Roethlisberger will apparently be back on the field Monday, with his old helmet, two weeks after an appendectomy and three months after breaking his face. I'm sure doctors will have signed off on the decision, but is it likely to be in Ben's long term health interest?

by Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 8:20pm

I got a mild concussion once while playing in a semi-pro game. I was only out for a few seconds, I never had any tingling or numbness and I finished the game, though I did sit out the next week. Two years later, I'm still having symptoms. The idea that Trent Green, who was unconscious and immobile for 15 minutes, might play at all the rest of this season is horrifying. I can't imagine how anyone can functional at all after sustaining multiple concussions in the space of a few months.

by Ilanin (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 9:27pm

Great article, MDS. It might just be me, but that's an angle on the Green hit that I'd not seen anybody else take.

So, Aaron. How is it that, starting from scratch with nothing more than a play-by-play database, an innovative statistical formula, and an irritation with the Boston sports media, you managed to assemble a better collection of football writing talent than any of America's big-gun sports magazines and broadcasters in three-and-a-bit years? Three of my five favourite NFL writers are Outsiders.

by billsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 10:42pm

I'm pretty sure that the NHL now requires players with concussion to miss a specified amount of time and receive medical clearance before returning to play. That seems pretty logical, but then again so does using a football helmet designed to reduce the rate of concussions, especially if one has already planted one's face in a windshield in the offseason. Ben says he can't see out of it, but it's good enough for the QB with the laser rocket arm.

For a little more info on the concussion-reducing helmet, check out the medical literature.

by RCH (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 1:08am

I played college football 20 years ago and we were given baseline tests at the start of every year. I can't believe that its apparently not standard practice after all this time.

by centrifuge (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 1:37am

5: I remember the original ESPN:Mag article that mentioned those mouthpieces. They're pretty impressive. I feel like the players' union should be passing out fliers about them or something -- it's not just responsible for its members wallets, but their health, too.

by Mahercor (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 9:16am

The radical design of the retainer like mouth guard allows breathing, drinking and communication is the prefferred choice of many pro and Patriot players. The key to the proceedure is an aligning and posisting of the jaw prior to making it. Developed with Marvin Hagler It counteracts the boxers "Glass Jaw". A glass jaw occurs when the cartilage (meniscus) is dislodged from the end of the jaw bone, creating a bone on bone situation at the skull base. This pinches nerves resulting in symptoms of dizziness, seeing stars, headache are all lessened during contact. A AAop peer reviewed study, by a Harvard doctor, now confirms the NFL stats.
The riddell helmet waa designed because they determined %70 of all concusssions originated at or below the ear hole (jaw). We feel the chinstrap is the culpret, it is the only thing that holds it on your head.
All the players of which were the subject of the Patriots study were wearing the old style helmet. The mouth gaurd costs about the same as a custom fitted. www.mahercor.com

by Bill Barnwell :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 3:11pm

So, Aaron. How is it that, starting from scratch with nothing more than a play-by-play database, an innovative statistical formula, and an irritation with the Boston sports media, you managed to assemble a better collection of football writing talent than any of America’s big-gun sports magazines and broadcasters in three-and-a-bit years?

The dental plan RULES.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 5:48pm

The dental plan RULES.

Really? I thought it was all about the women.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 8:52pm

We have a dental plan? I still can't figure out how to make the red type work after two years ... Barnwell's here a few months and he's getting bridge work done. Gotta talk to Mavis down in human resources...

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 3:10am

RE #18 Pat, First you get the money. Then you get the power. Then you get the women. My old philosophy professor, Tony Montana once said that. Okay, if you were in my dorm room in 1984/85, he probably said that 1,000 times.

Tho I wholeheartedly agree with #12. Aside from their intrinsic intellect and skills and any training, I suspect part of the reason these guys are so good is that they have a couple thousand passionate, opinionated, detail-oriented, nit-picky, fast-typing, generally funny and reasonable editors reading them every day. At work, at 2 a.m., whatever. If they had one drunk editor who is not a football expert, but who has been at magazine X for 30 years reading their stuff, they might tend to coast sometimes. Here, they know that they'd be raked over the coals (affectionately) for every slip-up (and even for some differences of opinion). Plus I understand the dental plan is killer!

So kudos to the staff, but to the FO regulars as well. We try to keep them honest.

And if we fail, ROBO-punter would kick! their! asses!!!

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 10:54am

Dental plan... Lisa needs braces... Dental plan... Lisa needs braces... Dental plan... Lisa needs braces... Dental plan... Lisa needs braces...

I had some other stuff I was going to say, but I thought about it and I'm not entirely sure I was correct. So let's hold off on that and not get misinformation out there. So...

One of my favorite hockey players, Keith Primeau, just retired this week, in large part due to numerous concussions. For years he was a linemate of Eric Lindros, who retired because of concussions. I remember when Lindros was hurt once, I read an article that suggested he didn't wear a mouthpiece - either that he didn't wear one at all and it supposedly could've helped/prevented the concussions, or there was a better one available to him that he refused to wear for some reason. Anyone else know what I'm talking about (because I don't)?

by dave crockett (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 11:06am

for any of you who saw the vicious helmet-to-helmet hit university of arizona QB willie tuitama suffered against lsu last week, tuitama played in the second half of arizona's game last night vs. stephen f. austin.

as an alum--who by the way wanted norm chow to be the head coach rather than mike stoops--i was extremely, extremely disappointed. stoops can't even make the case that this was a necessary move. there was just absolutely no need to put that kid the game against sfa. according to the local papers tuitama wasn't right all week, which is why they held him out of the first half.

by Michael David Smith :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 11:32am

I really appreciate everyone's comments. I'm looking forward to doing this new column each week and to hearing what you guys have to say about it. And I agree with Bobman -- I've learned a lot from having smart people tell me what they think on this site for the last three years.

by billsfan (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 1:16pm


Lindros is still playing (he's in Dallas now). He should have packed it in after game 6 of the 2000 conference finals, when Scott Stevens knocked him unconscious before he hit the ground. Many hockey players don't wear mouthguards, because just like face-shields, doing so implies less-than-average masculinity (or French-Canadian heritage). Sure, it's stupid, but just like MDS says in the article, that's the prevailing attitude. Football is a physical, not cerebral, sport, so phyiscal injuries will naturally seem more serious than head injuries, which are far more serious. It would be interesting, though, to see how DVOA for QB's compares pre- and post-concussion.

Regarding Primeau, he had to retire; doctors wouldn't clear him to play again.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 6:05pm

Whoa... Lindros is still playing??? I thought he retired years ago. Wow. Then again, I guess it shows how closely I follow hockey now.

by Richard (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 1:03am

To be fair, playing football isn't in anyone's best longterm health interests.

by Bill Barnwell :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 10:14am

I agree with Bobman and MDS too, but it's also freeing in a way: I know if I say something and people disagree they're going to have evidence and I'm going to learn something.

Not to disparage the FOX blog commenters or anything.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 11:01am

Hey, at least NHL players have made some advances. After all, it wasn't that long ago when they didn't even have to wear helmets (10-15 years?), so naturally, few of them at the time did wear helmets and after that, there were more than a few players (Sergei Fedorov comes to mind, I think) who "wore" a helmet with a chin strap looser than Paris Hilton. Guys, the helmet isn't there so that you have something in which you can carry your teeth ...

The prevailing attitude about concussions is something I just don't understand. People focus on physical issues because they're (supposedly) easy to identify and assess. It's almost like mental issues are thrown by the wayside because they can't be measured as precisely.

I think it would make a difference if a couple of teams adopted the Rugby Union concussion rules, but I don't see it happening. I think it would have to happen at the NCAA level first ... and why doesn't the NCAA mandate things like that? [insert anti-NCAA rant]

by Mahercor (not verified) :: Mon, 09/18/2006 - 3:56pm

The medical advisor to the NFL and the NHL and MLB are the same person. He has driven the research on concussion for the NFL and kept this information from all of the above leagues. The upcoming article in the Oct 1 issure of ESPN the Magazine focuses on the practices and direction of those studies.
The Patriots mouth guard is a retainer like device that is virtually undetectable to the user and light weight for comfort. This week in the wake of the Trent Green incident,Orlando Pace, Rod Smith, and others have had concussion. Basically they are having brain damage. Studies have proven Alsheimers, parkenson, depression, alcholism and suicide are far more likely to affect their quality of life.
Parents need to know how best to protect their kids. One of the reasons it has been so conceeled is that there has never been a solution to the problem of concussion. Riddell has tried with the new helmet designs but the problem is in the chinstrap. Now that the Pats dentist is on to this solution, the liability of all the oranizations involved are open to law suits. Why did it take so long to uncover something that was in plain sight. The Patriots have had the lowest concussion rate annually for the last twenty five years. Players wearing the Maher mouth guard have not had any concussions to speak of, medical records and stats can confirm that. A Harvard produced abstract study now confirms its effectiveness. www.mahercorlabs.com

by DWL (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 10:26am

How come the Mahercorlabs Promoter can't spell "Alzheimer's," "Parkinsons," and "concealed" and in general seems to be mystified by grammar and verbiage?

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 4:19pm

The link below is supposed to be to an article in the Indy Star about a system that Indiana is using to help detect forces that could possibly cause concussions.

Kudos to Greenspan for supporting it. I'm not sure I'm surprised much by Hoeppner's quoted reaction to it. I'm hoping it doesn't translate to "I'm fine with us using the system as long as it doesn't keep players out of the game."

I wonder if this system could also be used to determine if certain players (cough Kenoy Kennedy cough) tended to spear other players ... seems like if it registers hits to the head, it wouldn't care if the player involved was receiving or delivering the blow.

by Dan Morgan (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 9:09pm

Concushuns havunt effectad my thingking at all!1

by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 09/21/2006 - 4:28pm

In the book "The Gloves" by Robert Anasi, which is a first-person account of fighting in the Gold Gloves tournament, he has a good section on concussions. He remarks that it's very difficult to keep track of your own mental performance. His only clue that he was suffering from concussions was a tendency to forget things, like why he had come into a room; or he'd be standing in the shower and couldn't remember if he'd used the shampoo already. Of course for a boxer there's no one to do it for you, but couldn't an NFL trainer have some tests or that kind of thing? ("Um, Troy, I need you to take the Wonderlic test for me during this commercail break, OK?"

by MJB (not verified) :: Fri, 09/22/2006 - 10:10am

RE: #25

It was Eric's little brother Brett that had to retire because of concussions. He only played a couple of seasons for the N.Y. Islanders before he retired.