Over the past week, two events have highlighted the growing concern among athletes, fans and parents about concussions in the NFL.
Case Keenum, quarterback for the St. Louis Rams, suffered a head injury when his head struck the ground after being tackled. He could only get up with the assistance of another player. He staggered and was assisted to the sideline. After what appeared to be a cursory examination, to the astonishment of fans and viewers, he was allowed to return to the game.
Despite the efforts of the NFL and the NFLPA to impart safeguards, these protocols were circumvented. After the initial symptoms clear, athletes will often do anything to return to the game and in some cases, to their own detriment, they are able to deceive the medical professionals involved.
Frank Gifford was an icon in the NFL. Not only was he an outstanding player, but he later went on to become an accomplished and highly respected football commentator. He played in an era where head injuries were an accepted part of the game.
After passing away earlier this year at the age of 84, Gifford’s family generously donated his brain for scientific study. This week it was revealed that his brain had changes consistent with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is a condition diagnosed on post-mortem examination where an abnormal deposition of tau protein is found in certain areas of the brain. It is typically found in athletes who participate in sports where head trauma is common. Clinical symptoms of slowed movements, dementia and behavioral abnormalities can be found in some of these patients.
Unfortunately, some athletes who believe they may have CTE become desperate and resign themselves to their despair and in some cases commit suicide. Gifford obviously made a different choice and did not let his condition define him.
Both of these events emphasize how much work still needs to be done in the field of sports concussions.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.