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TBI In Sports: Highlights from the Brewer Sports/Amarantus C4CT Summit

TBI

Yesterday Brewer Sports International (BSI) and partner Amarantus Bioscience hosted the second annual Coalition for Concussion Treatment (#C4CT)  Concussion Awareness Summit at the United Nations in New York City. Part of Brewer Sports’s suite of Super Bowl week events, #C4CT brought together the brightest minds in medicine, business and sports to discuss the issues surrounding concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) awareness, prevention and treatment.

Beginning last year as a viral media campaign utilizing Twitter and other social media outlets to vocalize and publicize heath and safety concerns relating to concussions and TBI, #C4CT has significantly grown its reach in efforts to build awareness about key scientific and medical advancements which will lead to the identification and development of new TBI treatment opportunities.

Key Takeaways Surrounding TBI and Concussions

Here are some key takeaways and fun facts from the Summit:

Unknown Fact: Women’s Ice Hockey is the #1 sport for concussions in the NCAA.

Doctors’ Orders

Part of the summit was hearing from some of the best doctors around the world talk about what they know and how we can improve on diagnosing and preventing concussions.

  • Much more research is required to fully understand the impact of TBI and CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a progressive neurodegenerative disease).  The science is in its infancy, with less than 50 articles since 2000. The need for an effective means of diagnosing the disease during life is most dire, said neurologist Dr. Robert Stern of Boston University. CTE was confirmed for 18 out of 19 former NFL players who were tested posthumously.
  • There are currently 42 different definitions of “concussion.” University of Florida Football Team Physician, Dr. Jay Clugston, called for a standard in concussion diagnostics that is sensitive, accurate, easy to use and inexpensive to guarantee proper and effective use.  This will also help mitigate teams’ sense of competitive disadvantage resulting from higher concussion diagnosis rates.
  • NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline emphasized the need for concussion education at the college level. He informed us that there is currently no concussion training for neurologists during residency.  Despite that, he’s currently working to introduce an education program into 10 schools that will be geared towards  teams’ coaching and training staff members as well as athletes.

Fun Fact: A woodpecker will never get a concussion, due to the natural structure of its skull and neck muscles.

From the Sideline

Photo Credit: AP/Morry Gash via ESPN

Photo Credit: AP/Morry Gash via ESPN

There were also plenty of players and coaches in attendance giving their thoughts. Some highlights below:

  • Player safety starts with the youngest athletes.  “If we don’t want NFL players to develop CTE, we need to make football for 10 year-olds as safe as it is for the pros.” -Chris Nowinski,  Harvard Alum, former pro wrestler, Founding Executive Director of Sports Legacy Institute
  • Coaches are now more understanding of the necessity and importance of immediate concussion evaluations, but players less so.  During the Diagnostics and Standards of Care discussion, Dr. Clugston recalled being “pushed off the field by linemen” who wanted to stay in the game and did not want a potential concussion report to bench them.
  • Jermichael Finley, current Green Bay Packers tight end, opened the Current & Former Athletes panel by telling the story of his traumatic injury in October 2013, when he was carted off Lambeau Field. Despite extensive rehabilitation following his spinal contusion and subsequent fusion surgery, Finley determined that he will “definitely” return to the game.

Unknown Fact: The rate of concussions is the same for men’s and women’s lacrosse, even though women’s lacrosse is a non-contact sport.

Corner Office View

leigh-steinberg

The issue of TBI and concussions does not just affect players, coaches and doctors. Lawyers and team executives have a huge investment in the matter as well.

  • Agent Leigh Steinberg talked about the issue of risk and how players need increased protection: “We have to protect players from themselves because they accept norms no one else would,” he said.
  • Andrew Brandt, former VP of the Green Bay Packers, revealed that players’ concussion histories are taken into consideration by the front office, often impacting signing and drafting decisions.  He echoed Dr. Clugston’s warning that TBI can lead to job loss or reassignment for many athletes.
  • In regard to the NFL concussion class action suit, Plaintiffs’ Co-lead Counsel Christopher Seeger is content with the $765 million settlement, as “[he] had a very large group of retired players who needed help now.” Forty-five out of 46 players examined were diagnosed with CTE.

In Retrospect

What about retired players? Players who have already fought and clawed their way in the NFL and are now dealing with post-playing day issues? Below are some of their thoughts.

  • NFL Hall of Famer and NFL Retired Players Association President Carl Eller lamented not  speaking up sooner and demanding the voice of the player be heard on these issues, declaring “Athletes have a perspective and they need to be heard and be part of this decision.” He was resolute in his commitment to “not only to make the game better, but to make it so that when guys leave the sport they don’t fall apart.”
  • Former Redskins running back Clinton Portis stated he wouldn’t want his sons to play contact football until high school. “It’s too early,” he says, due to the risks of TBI, and likely also due to the lack of preventative measures taken and diagnostic capabilities at the amateur levels of the game.
  • EJ Henderson, former Viking, said he was “blessed” to have zero diagnosed concussions, especially since he came from an era of using your helmet as a weapon.
  • Two-time Harvard grad and 8-year NFL veteran Isaiah Kacyvenski will donate his brain to science.  He vividly described the “humbling” and “stark” differences between his undergraduate and graduate academic experiences pre and post his NFL career.  After football he found great difficulty focusing and doing well in his classes when before academics were not at all a struggle for him.

Unkown Fact: Studies show it takes someone who has suffered a brain injury three times the amount of energy to complete the same task as someone who has not suffered a brain injury.

So What Have We Learned About TBI and Concussions?

TGC-Brain-helmet

At the end of the day it is clear that much research still needs to be done. There is a long road ahead before we reach a place where concussion/TBI diagnostics are standardized, consistent evaluation methods are in place and risks are actively mitigated at all levels of sport.  There was tremendous insight shared from all perspectives throughout the entire day, and it is my hope that this Summit leads to future collaborations among the brilliant minds in the room to further progress toward making football and all sports safer.

Thank you to Brewer Sports International, Amarantus Bioscience and partners ONE MIND for Research & MDM Worldwide for hosting such an informative and inspiring event!

Brewer Sports International was founded by five-year NFL veteran Jack Brewer and offers a boutique of corporate advisory, media and sports lending services for professional athletes, sports agencies, public and private corporations and various partners including international organizations, governments and NGOs.

Amarantus Bioscience is a development-stage, publicly-traded biotechnology company discovering & developing first-in-class treatments for neurodegenerative and other diseases.

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