Insight News

Dec 19th

Concussions, Sports, and Money: a bad cocktail

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morneauWith Minnesota Twins icon Justin Morneau suffering the lingering effects from a concussion since early July, and the head knocking football season at hand, it’s important that young athletes and their families learn about the effects of concussions. Whether football, hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball, and whatever, there are multiple ways to come across a concussion when athletes get to running around with scowls on their face, fighting for the extra inches that lead to victory. We celebrate these dangerous, but exhilarating, efforts with statements like “going the extra mile” and “sacrifice your body for the team”, but there is always another side to valor.

There is a growing problem of traumatic brain injuries in sports – or perhaps there is just greater testing and attention focused on these injuries – and the affects are both in the short-term and long-term. Former Minnesota Twin Cory Koskie, who suffered through troubles with concussions in his baseball career, described the experience as “exasperating.” Simple tasks like driving and reading become difficult. Short-term effects include: confusion, temporary amnesia, headaches, dizziness, ringing of the ears, nausea, slurred speech, and fatigue. One of the major difficulties with concussions is due to the very individual nature of its effects.

Although many advances in neuroscience have occurred over the years, it’s still pretty difficult for specialists to pin down the exact physiological triggers. As possibly outlandish as it may or may not sound, neuroscience researcher Mark Underwood, of Quincy Bioscience in Madison, WI, has gotten approval for a brain function treatment which involves a calcium protein found in jellyfish (“Gift from the Sea: How a protein from jellyfish fights the Aging Process”). Underwood writes, “As an apparent protective mechanism the brain elevates calcium levels within neurons after a trauma. …It’s the elevated calcium levels that inactivate and then kill the neurons, bringing about cognitive dysfunction, memory loss, and in some cases dementia in the athlete’s.” These chemical adjustments may take place days, weeks, months, and even years after the impact, writes Underwood. This is the individual nature of the problem.

It is the long-term effects of concussions that researchers find to be more problematic in treatment and diagnosis. “We are seeing a link between concussions of the playing field, and the early onset of chronic memory loss and dementia in many athletes,” writes Underwood. A “Quality-of-Life” study of retired players, commissioned by the NFL, reported that memory related diseases for sampled athletes were nineteen times higher than those who did not play.

This is important to note with regards to Justin Morneau, and the Twins organizations’ handling of the injury. Several teams in recent years have suffered bad publicity hits due to mishandling of traumatic brain injuries. The general feel amongst former athletes seems to show plenty of bad feelings towards organizations that downplayed the athletes’ suggestions of symptoms, with some athletes even claiming they were told “…(it’s) just in your head.” It seems like that should be all the more reason to pay close attention.

And while the Twins are handling the Justin Morneau situation well, you also have the NFL, which has strong considerations on the table to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games. Fortunately the Vikings are handling the headache issues for star receiver Percy Harvin well, because the history of overall treatment of active and former players in the NFL isn’t good at all. And the demonstration of the desire to expand the season just doesn’t seem to jive with the physical fallout that already exists with retired football players. Obviously, nobody can be a fool and not think that additional revenue has the largest hand in the desire to expand the season.

The thing that seems to loom from the big picture is that this decision seems to be getting pushed through the same way that many faulty pursuits in society do; and all with the lessons of the BP oil spill, the many financial calamities due to mismanagement, the New Orleans levees never being properly fixed, and the “steroids era” of baseball, amongst plenty of other painful examples. Greed doesn’t end up good.

Somehow the impact of money must also add to calcium levels in brain cells. Calcium strengthens bones. The term “Bonehead” comes to mind. …Treat the players right.


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