John Doherty

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INDIANAPOLIS — Last week, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Journal of Athletic Training published a consensus statement from 13 medical and sports medicine organizations on how best to prevent catastrophic injury and death in collegiate athletes.

Besides the NATA, those organizations included the NCAA, the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Academy of Neurology.

John Parsons, PhD, ATC, Director of the Sports Science Institute at the NCAA, was the primary author. He was joined by Scott Anderson, ATC, the head athletic trainer at the University of Oklahoma; Doug Casa, PhD, ATC, the Chief Executive Officer of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut and Brian Hainline, MD, the NCAA’s Chief Medical Officer.

“Almost all cases of non-traumatic catastrophic injury and death are preventable and or treatable,” said Hainline in a press release from the NATA. “We’ve seen a clear improvement in policies, research, education and medical care but there is still much more to be done. This document provides a roadmap for all participating institutions to put best practices in place and ensure the safety of our student athletes.”

The recommendations in the statement were broken down into six areas and the first was sportsmanship. That’s right, sportsmanship, something entirely absent in the conduct of Raiders linebacker Vontaze Burfict in Indianapolis on Sunday. That is when he lowered his helmet into the head of Colts tight end Jack Doyle. For that act, Burfict will be taking the rest of season off without pay, pending his appeal to the NFL later this week.

“Sportsmanship is foundational to NCAA athletics competition,” read the same press release, “and creates a moral and ethical framework that rejects an intentional effort by athletes to use any part of their body, uniform or protective equipment as a weapon to injure another athlete or themselves.”

Thus, the statement called for a player to be ejected from a game when any such infraction occurs.

In a conversation Monday, Parsons acknowledged that targeting in football is the “poster child” for ejection but pointed to a basketball player on a breakaway being flagrantly fouled and a baseball batter being intentionally hit as other examples where ejection should result.

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Furthermore, if any such call is missed, the statement urged that video replay be employed to determine, after-the-fact, if this type of violation occurred and result in suspension from the next game. The statement even went on to call for officials who “fail to call such infractions” to be disciplined.

Protective equipment was the next area addressed and the statement directed collegiate programs to establish policies that guarantee “annual certification, re-certification and compliance as appropriate, with all protective equipment standards.”

Because early season practices and “strength and conditioning sessions in American football are particularly high-risk events for non-traumatic catastrophic injury and death,” the statement next focused on heat acclimatization and conditioning.

Therefore, the statement mandated that training and conditioning sessions be introduced “intentionally, gradually and progressively to … minimize the risk of adverse effects on health.” Meanwhile, a record of all such sessions should be maintained to help insure that they are based on exercise-science and consistent with the activities and skills that are integral to the sport being played.

The individuals managing such sessions should have the proper background to do so and should be under an appropriate management structure. With that in mind, the statement also outlined the responsibilities of athletics personnel as well as their education and training. One such responsibility, according to the statement, is to prevent physical activity from being used as punishment, explaining that such a practice “abandons sound principles and elevates risk above any reward.”

Strength and conditioning sessions, according to the document, should be administered only by those certified to do so. They must also have the necessary training to initially respond to any medical emergency in their facility. Finally, because of the nature of their positions, strength and conditioning coaches should not be supervised by the coach of a specific sport but rather be part of a sports medicine or sports performance hierarchy.

While it was written for the collegiate level, I told Parsons that his document contains hardly a word that does not apply to the high school level. “I think that’s a fair observation,” he replied.

For high school administrators, athletic directors, coaches, athletic trainers, and team doctors, then, it should be required reading. To read it in its entirety, go to www.natajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.4085/1062-6050-54.085.

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