Concussions 101 takes heads to heart
It doesn’t take a knockout hit to put you down for the count.
That’s the message both the Tiger-Cats and Canadian Football League Alumni want the coaches, trainers, administrators and parents of young football players to take to heart.
To drive the point home, the two organizations are teaming up with the support of Football Canada to host Concussions 101 on Saturday at McMaster Innovation Park in Hamilton.
“We want to create more awareness behind concussion and mild brain injury and its impact on football,” says Leo Ezerins, executive director of the CFL Alumni Association, “not only on the game, but on the coaches and the parents and everybody that participates in the sport.”
Ezerins and others involved in the football community, like Dr. David Levy, team physician for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and moderator at the upcoming conference, say that for many years, head injuries were often taken too lightly.
But a number of recent suicides by former NFL players — linked to years of repetitive head injuries — and the concussion-related problems of high-profile athletes such as Sidney Crosby, have raised concerns about contact sports and thrust the topic into the sphere of public debate.
“We want to get across to people at the grassroots levels — the high schools, the rep teams, the universities — just how important it is to recognize concussion, to know what to do about concussion and how to decide when to get back on the field,” Levy says.
Since many head injuries are not often visible, both coaches and players can downplay the potential seriousness of the injury.
“It’s like taking an egg and shaking it — you can scramble that egg without any damage to the shell,” Levy says. “Linemen in football are hitting with their helmets or having their helmets hit on almost every play. It’s not enough to knock them out or even to have symptoms, but over the years, it’s like getting punch-drunk. It’s the fighter in the ring who takes a lot of blows to the head and it may never knock him out, but each blow creates a little bit of damage.”
Levy says the biggest misconception about head injuries is the assumption that once players feel better, it’s safe for them to return to the game. But by doing so too quickly, players are in danger of a second impact injury, which can cause even greater, sometimes perilous, harm.
“We have to try and get across to people — without fear mongering — that you have to go back and play at a graduated level,” he says, adding that brain injuries are cumulative and researchers are finding that the foundations for these long-term injuries are often laid before a player reaches an elite level
“We wanted to aim the conference at a level where there is no physician or trained athletic therapist on the sidelines,” says Levy. “There’s a lot of football played on a lot of fields for many years before you get to that (elite) level and there are decisions being made by people who, prior to this, weren’t all that qualified.”
The conference will address the assessment, treatment and management of concussions, and ways to lessen head injuries on the playing field, as well as some of the evolving legal issues surrounding the roles and responsibilities of coaches, trainers and team management when dealing with injured players.
“We’re at a tipping point,” says Jim Cimba, a lawyer and senior partner with Cimba and Associates, who will speak on the legal perspective at the event.
He says the provincial government’s move to introduce return-to-play guidelines — through the implementation of Bill 39 — for elementary and secondary school students who have suffered head injuries is the first step in ensuring the safety of athletes.
“I think we’re not that far away from seeing it extrapolated to the university and professional levels,” Cimba says. “After the Sidney Crosby saga, no one can say concussions don’t hurt people.”
Saturday, June 23, from 8:30 a.m. until noon, at
McMaster Innovation Park, 175 Longwood Rd. S., Hamilton.
Register and pay online at www.htcaa.ca
Registration costs $25.
905-526-3254 | @PattieatTheSpec