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Preventing Concussions: The NFL’s Own Headache

Concussions have been a hot topic as of late and has recently impacted two Houston players in the NFL. But are their prevention measures working — and to what end, for an inherently violent sport?



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A diagram of the forces on the brain in concussion.
A diagram of the forces on the brain in concussion.

Concussions have been a hot topic as of late and already the brain injury has seriously impacted two Houston players of the NFL.

The newly-released film, ‘Concussion,' which is based on the research by a real-life doctor, couldn't have come at a better time for a league dealing with criticism over how it’s handled player concussions.

But are their prevention measures working?

In November, former Cougars and Texans quarterback Case Keenum, who is now with the Rams, suffered a concussion but stayed in the game. A week prior, Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer suffered a concussion and then within the span of less than a month, was diagnosed with yet another one.

So is the NFL doing enough to address the disease?

"I think the league has a vested interest in not taking interest in this," says Jeff Balke, sports writer for the Houston Press. "They have spent decades ignoring a problem — at some point, a problem they didn't really understand and they really didn't know about — but ultimately a point where they are culpable. They were aware that there was a serious problem. They ignored a lot of the medical science."

And the league responded by installing head specialists and concussion spotters on the sidelines and in stadium booths of every game.

Dr. Kenneth Podell, who's the director of the Houston Methodist Concussion Center and the official health provider for the Houston Texans, says the NFL's current system of spotting head injuries has drastically improved over time.

"Are there going to be concussions missed on the sidelines, the answer is yes," states Podell. "Sometimes concussions take time to evolve, so initially they may not have any symptoms. It's greatly improved, but there's still room for improvement."

Three-time Super Bowl champ for the Patriots and Houston sports broadcaster Ted Johnson says, as a former linebacker, he sustained many of his head injuries during practice and training camp – areas where currently, many of these concussion spotters aren't present.

"I was getting concussions all the time in practice, says Johnson. "And if you had Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick, like I did for most of my career, they liked more physical practices than say Bill Walsh or Mike Holmgren or Pete Carroll who don't like to hit as much. So each experience is different and each position is different."

Balke says the league needs to understand the links between a player potentially sustaining multiple concussions with every hit and long-term cognitive problems.

"It's possible that nothing can be done, save completely altering the game of football to prevent this from happening," says Balke. "So whatever your concussion protocols are on the back end, those are for the most severe circumstances: the Brian Hoyer situation or the Case Keenam (incident). I'm not sure they're really equipped to deal with every day (head) injuries that occur on a play-by-play basis."

Perhaps a sequel to the Concussion film just might be needed.

Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson

Executive Producer & Host, I SEE U

A native of Mississippi, Eddie started his radio career as a 10th grader, working as a music jock for a 100,000-Watt (Pop) FM station and a Country AM station simultaneously. While Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus had nominated him for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, Eddie had an extreme passion...

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