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Following the bouncing brain

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29LNM_PH_Jims Column_Linsdau Following the bouncing brain A recent lawsuit against the National Football League by a number of ex-players has perpetuated the concern over the long-term effects of brain trauma, or concussions. Last year, Sports Illustrated magazine did a special report on the subject. Concussions typically occur when the head is struck by a blunt instrument, or when it comes to a sudden stop while the brain continues in motion and violently strikes the inside of the cranium. The SI article brought to light some issues that went beyond two (or more) bodies hitting helmet-to-helmet while running at full speed. Scientists at Purdue University studied some local high school football players to determine the differences between brain patterns of previously concussed players and those never suffering a concussion. The surprising findings showed some never diagnosed with gridiron brain trauma had greater visual memory damage (rapid identification of recurring patterns) than those with a history of it. After re-examining the data, the Purdue researches found the effects on visual memory were more the result of repeated blows than the infrequent, more violent hits. It was also discovered that repeated jolts to a certain part of the head were the most problematic. What the study also revealed was the brain’s unique ability to heal itself when the repeated blows ceased over time. Football is huge in America and money is no small part of it. Although most really don’t like to see injuries on the field, most fans do love seeing a “big hit,” especially if it’s the favorite team clobbering an opponent. And players can get caught up in the gladiator-type appeal and sacrifice their own safety for the glory of the game. But the news isn’t all bad for football fans. Although illegal hits, like the NFL has implemented, are one way to reduce the incidence of brain injury, a change in technique might prove more effective. Early evidence indicates the effects a receiver endures when blindsided on a crossing pattern may not be as long-lasting as that experienced by those on the line of scrimmage butting heads on each play. It was found, where visual memory was concerned, repeated strikes to the top of the head just beyond the forehead produced the damage. Although a player laid out by a blow to the temple was traumatic, it didn’t have the same lingering effect as did repetitious helmet-to-helmet contact. Although youth and genetics can play a role, the study showed normal brain function tends to return over time when the contact stops. For that reason, the high school game, and even college, may have an avenue to correct the problem. The pro game is another matter. A career of 16-game seasons, plus preseason and the playoffs, can take a toll. Because of that, the NFL may have to re-evaluate its priorities as to the toll it takes at the gate and the toll it takes on its players.