Christmas wish: fewer concussions

New statistics on right path Andrew Brandt

Print This December 24, 2010, 11:01 AM EST

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The recent AP report that showed a significant increase in the reported number of concussions in 2010 is both heartening and disturbing at the same time. It also represents an example of how statistics can be used for different purposes, depending on the vantage point.

According to NFL data, the number of concussions reported this season, with two weeks remaining, is up more than 20 percent from 2009 and more than 30 percent from 2008.

On the optimistic side, this shows an encouraging trend that the increased awareness has had a marked effect in the reporting of head injuries. It is proof that the NFL, its clubs and its players are taking brain trauma much more seriously than in past years.

Unfortunately, the statistics also remind us of the unsettling fact of the past that is certainly still true: head injuries have long been seriously underreported and “shaken off” . We cannot be naïve to the fact that there remain multiple concussions that are not reported, many happening to “bubble” players who cannot afford to miss time in their mission to stay employed with an NFL club.

The awareness and the insertion of this issue into the national – pardon the pun – consciousness is terrific news. The fact that trainers, doctors and independent neurologists are making the decisions on players’ return to action rather than football personnel is one of the best things that has ever happened in the NFL decision-making process.

However, this is still a disconcerting reminder of days gone by. Dr. Thom Mayer, the co-chairman of the NFLPA’s committee on this issue, said it poignantly: "How many times did that occur in the past, and no one stepped up to say, 'Something's not right with this guy’? How many thousands -- tens of thousands -- of times has that occurred before now? And the answer is: We'll never know. Records weren't kept the way they are now."

I talk to former players all the time, especially players who were not star players, about the concussion issue and its surrounding stigma. They felt foggy and groggy but “toughed it out” because of (1) the culture that existed to shake it off and get back in the game; and (2) fear that someone else would take their job if they didn’t. A new mindset has hopefully replaced the old “tough it out” culture, although there will always be players afraid of reporting concussions or possible concussions due to fear of the resounding pressures of job security and getting that next contract.

The concussion statistics purportedly show there are more concussions being reported. Unfortunately, there is no way of correlating that statistic to the statistic we really want to see: fewer concussions. That, in a game trying to achieve the delicate balance between entertainment and violence, is the ultimate goal.  A Christmas wish, perhaps?

Merry Christmas to all!

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt. 

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