Feb. 20, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
I get questions all the time from those who are interested in health and sports -- "What are you doing to increase safety in sports, especially when it comes to concussions?"
It is a hot topic of discussion. The speed, strength and agility of today's athlete create many situations where significant contact and/or collisions occur in many of our 29 varsity sports at Michigan.
Stories of concussions receive the bulk of the media attention, for good reason. The University of Michigan is fortunate to have one of the finest medical teams available. It also has one of the leading authorities on concussions.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is our man. His background and knowledge have made him a nationally recognized expert in the cause, diagnosis and treatment of concussions. In October of 2011, Dr. Kutcher was invited to be part of a panel created by the U.S. Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in Washington, D.C. He was there to participate in the discussion regarding claims made by manufacturers who sell sporting goods equipment that their products prevent or diminish concussions.
The event was covered by C-SPAN and other media outlets, but many of these types of events do not receive national attention. The fact is, we have a Michigan Man on the front lines of this battle. And this one trip to Washington, D.C., is just one of many events Dr. Kutcher is asked to attend and provide leadership.
Dr. Kutcher is director of Michigan NeuroSport, where he conducts research and treats athletes from a variety of sports at all levels of competition.
He is the team neurologist for U-M and has been instrumental in developing the concussion policies and practices of the NCAA, Big Ten and Mid-American Conference.
He is also the director of the NBA Concussion Program and chair of the Section of Sports Neurology for the American Academy of Neurology.
Every day, he is working closely with the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League Players Association along with our team of doctors and athletic trainers to have the best information available when protecting and treating our student-athletes.
Clearly, with contact sports, there is a risk. The key question is: how do you manage the risk and how do you develop guidelines to help prevent these types of injuries?
In my discussions with Dr. Kutcher, he points out that some of the ideas being circulated in the mainstream media for addressing this problem sound great at first glance, but often there is little research to support their claims.
Does less contact in practice mean the chances of head injuries diminish? Or does that mean the hits during competition become even more dangerous because individuals are not taught properly how take a hit?
And what about equipment? How much can it be improved? And how should it be changed?
(A football equipment note: The leather football helmet has its origin more than 100 years ago. It was first worn in an 1893 Army-Navy game. An Annapolis shoemaker created the first helmet for Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves, who had been advised by a Navy doctor that he would be risking death or "instant insanity" if he took another kick to the head. In 1896 Lafayette College halfback George Barclay so feared the fabled cauliflower ear on his "hearing organs," which he felt was a direct cause of playing bare-headed, that he had a playing hat made. His design was a special headgear which was held to his head by three heavy leather straps fashioned by a harness maker, thus giving the first football helmets the nomenclature "head-harness.") ---credit: Past Time Sports, History of the football helmet.
The facemask in football was mandated by the NCAA in the early 1950s after a football player suffered a severe broken jaw. There are some who believe head injuries would decrease if we went back to leather helmets and no facemasks. Certainly the helmets of today give great confidence to athletes to use their head as a weapon -- which didn't happen before the heavy, plastic helmets of today came upon the scene.
Rule changes will continue in many of our sports. Competition rules must consider the risks of certain techniques and actions to the health of the participants.
All injuries are a problem, and we must work to prevent as many of them as possible. But there are no easy answers when it comes to concussions. The questions about this serious and hard-to-diagnose injury likely outweigh the actual knowledge and information we have attained to this point.
And while some efforts are now in place, more research and work has to be done. The NHL now requires players suspected of having a concussion to be taken to a quiet area and tested. The NCAA and the NFL have developed a no-tolerance rule for helmet-to-helmet and other hits to the head.
Our coaches, student-athletes, doctors and athletic trainers understand these issues and work together to help each other identify and hopefully diminish concussions.
Michigan Athletics is committed to the safety of our student-athletes. We are passionate about protecting them and providing them with the best possible training and medical care.
We are fortunate that we have the University of Michigan Health System and exceptional individuals like Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher to team with our other doctors, our athletic trainers and our coaches to give our student-athletes "Leaders and Best" care.
Thank you to Dr. Jeff Kutcher -- and the U-M Health System -- for all they do to help us in so many ways!
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