John Doherty: Heady times across sports spectrum

2012-10-15T16:17:00Z John Doherty: Heady times across sports spectrumBy John Doherty Times Sports Correspondent
October 15, 2012 4:17 pm  • 

It doesn't seem to matter where you are or what sport holds your interest, there's no escaping the controversy of concussion.

Last week, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finally sought help for a concussion suffered more than a month ago. In so doing, he was looking out for his NASCAR opponents as much as himself.

Earnhardt's revelation only served to renew media scrutiny of the concussion issue. However by Saturday, a concussion carnival of sorts pushed his story to the background.

At Notre Dame, Irish quarterback Everett Golson did not return after a penalized hit to the head in the fourth quarter. It took another 24 hours for head coach Brian Kelly to utter the dreaded “C” word. Practicing medicine by crystal ball, Kelly said he expected the still-symptomatic Golson to be ready for practice by today.

In San Francisco, during a practice session the day prior to the start of the NLCS, Giants first base coach Roberto Kelly was struck on the back of the head by a batted ball. Not a good year for such things in the Bay Area. Just six weeks ago A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy needed emergency surgery after being struck on the head by a line drive.

Then in far away Rio De Janeiro, Munster native Stephan Bonnar lost via a TKO to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Bonnar tweeted after the match that he was fine but when a referee stops a fight because of repeated blows to your head, sorry, you're concussed.

All four above-listed victims are grown men, fully cognizant of the risks they take.

Children who participate in sports are another matter. While the preponderance of evidence indicates it takes years of multiple hits to put most brains at risk for a degenerative disease, even a single concussion in youth is better prevented than treated.

With that in mind, prominent Boston neurosurgeon and concussion expert Dr. Robert Cantu penned a piece for the pages of New York Times last week.

On the gridiron, he would prohibit tackling until age 14. His reasoning? The developing brain is too vulnerable to injury. Unlike his suggestion of two-and-half years ago not to use helmets in football practice, this idea may gain some traction.

For soccer, Cantu urged no heading also until 14. I would ban heading which involves reversing the direction of the ball at all levels. Redirecting a corner kick approximately 90 degrees requires delivering a controlled blow rather than just “taking” one at full force. Intentionally doing that, at any age, is not smart.

In hockey, Cantu would ban body checking until age 14. Considering USA Hockey has already done so until age 13, another year isn't much to ask.

On the diamond, he would like to see mandatory chinstraps on helmets and, interestingly, a ban on headfirst slides. I've been advocating that for years to protect fingers, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.

Finally, in field hockey and women's lacrosse, Cantu would like to see helmets just like the men wear in lacrosse. No argument here. Any cranium close to swinging sticks best be helmeted.

John Doherty is a certified athletic trainer and licensed physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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