Jordan Cameron Concussion

The new film Concussion delivers a shock to the system of everyone who follows the NFL and other collision-oriented sports. When Concussion, starring Will Smith and directed by Peter Landsman, opens Christmas Day, it will jump-start public awareness of the ticking time bomb and diagnosed health epidemic caused by athletic concussion. Awareness is a critical first step, but action to minimize the risk is urgently needed. The good news is that action is already underway on a variety of fronts.

Jake Long

This action is necessary because if 50 percent of the mothers in this country become aware that playing football may lead to ALS, Alzheimers, premature senility, depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, they may tell their teenage sons that they can play any sport, but not tackle football. It won't kill football, but it will change the socioeconomics so that the only people who play are those who currently box, needing it to escape economic circumstances. The knockout blow is the tip of the iceberg. Sub-concussive hits occur every play.

The NFL may be the straw that stirs the publicity drink, but millions of concussions occur worldwide from all sports that involve collision. Concussions also occur in accidents ranging from bicycles to motorcycles to falling off a horse. This creates a worldwide market and a profit incentive to develop products that help prevent concussion, minimize the impact of the blow, and cure the concussed brain. Unleashing research and development in medicine, engineering and technology will advance the tools available to deal with the crisis. What follows is a description of some of these efforts. There are thousands of researchers and engineers involved in the effort, and they are all to be lauded.

Concussion

Former NFL Executive Terry O'Neil started a program called Practice Like the Pros. It advocates that all football played below the ninth grade be limited to flag football. It has aggressively advocated stopping full contact practices in spring, summer and the off-season, and pushed for limits in-season. States like California have enacted laws supporting this. Former coaches Sam Wyche, Mike Ditka, Jon Gruden and Dick Vermeil are supporters.

Dr. Mark Lovell developed a baseline testing program, IMPAACT, which allows a cognitive baseline to be established before an athletic season and compared with a post-concussive state. The goal is to keep impacted players from reentering a game or returning to practice or play too early. There is a King-Devick test, which has proven effective. A variety of technologies designed for instant detection of impairment on the sidelines have been developed, and more are on the way. Playing surface matters. A company called Viconic has developed an under-layer for synthetic turf that may help with "impact management" by cushioning the head and lower limbs when they hit the ground.

CTE in NFL vets

 

Mike Webster #52

As a player, Mike Webster was an all-time great, earning nine Pro Bowl selections and winning four Super Bowls with the Steelers. In 1997, Webster was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

 

Mike Webster #52

Unfortunately, Webster's post-football life was troubled. He was afflicted by amnesia, depression and dementia in his later years, many of which he spent homeless despite having relatives willing to house him. After his death in 2002, he became the first NFL veteran diagnosed with CTE.

 

Forrest Blue #75

As an offensive lineman, Forrest Blue was a four-time All-Pro. His eleven-year NFL career was split between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Colts. Blue died in 2011 in an assisted care facility, after which he was diagnosed with CTE.

 

Lew Carpenter #30

Lew Carpenter made a 47-year career out of football. After playing at the University of Arkansas the running back spent 10 years playing for the Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. He retired from coaching in 1996 due to health reasons and died in 2010, agreeing to donate his brain to science.

 

Lou Creekmur #76

An eight-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman, Lou Creekmur suffered from a 30-year decline in mental health leading up to his death in 2009. He was 82.

 

Shane Dronett #99

After a 10-year career in the NFL, defensive lineman Shane Dronett experienced significant cognitive troubles in 2006. He suffered from confusion, paranoia, and bouts of rage. In 2009, he picked up a gun and confronted his wife, who fled. In her absence, Dronett fatally shot himself. He was 38.

 

Dave Duerson #26

In 11 NFL seasons, Duerson was a four-time Pro-Bowler and the 1987 NFL man of the year. In 2011, he shot himself in the chest and died. Duerson had suspected something regarding his mental health: just before shooting himself, he texted his family asking them to donate his brain to science.

 

Ray Easterling #32

An eight-year veteran who spent his entire career with the Atlanta Falcons, Ray Easterling was one of the veterans to add his name to a federal lawsuit against the NFL regarding concussions. In April 2012, he fatally shot himself, allegedly due to the worsening of his clinical depression and the deterioration of his cognitive functioning.

 

Cookie Gilchrist #2

Between the CFL and the AFL, Cookie Gilchrist earned nine All-Star bids. The running back was also a two-time AFL rushing champion. After his playing career, Gilchrist displayed erratic and sometimes angry behavior, particularly to those he had worked with in his playing days. He died in 2011 and was diagnosed with advanced CTE.

 

John Grimsley #59

A 10-year NFL veteran, Grimsley is best known for making the Pro Bowl in 1988. In 2008, he died of an apparent accidental gunshot wound, after which he was diagnosed with CTE.

 

Chris Henry #15

Henry's CTE diagnosis was a breakthrough that brightened the spotlight on football's dangers. After several run-ins with the law, Henry died in 2009 from a motor vehicle accident. An autopsy revealed that Henry had CTE at just 26 years old. He was the first still-active NFL player to be diagnosed with the condition.T

 

Terry Long #74

Long was a consistent starter for the Steelers from 1984 until his retirement in 1991. That same year, Long tested positive for steroids and attempted suicide. He eventually killed himself in 2005 by drinking antifreeze.

 

John Mackey #88

A five-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL champion, John Mackey was only the second tight end ever admitted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. After his playing days, Mackey was afflicted with dementia, and his condition worsened until he required full-time care in an assisted living facility. He died in 2011.

 

John Mackey #88

Since John's death, his wife, Sylvia Mackey, has become a powerful advocate for NFL veterans and continues to push the NFL to change through her activism and legal work.

 

Ollie Matson #33

In addition to having a 14-year NFL career, Ollie Matson also won two medals at the 1952 Olympics. He died in 2011 from complications from dementia and was later diagnosed with CTE.

 

Tom McHale #73

A bruising defensive end with an Ivy League education, Tom McHale played in the NFL from 1987 to 1995. He died in 2008 from an accidental drug overdose. His widow now works for the Boston University CTE Center as a family relations liason.

 

Junior Seau #55

Perhaps the most accomplished player to be diagnosed with CTE, Junior Seau was a 12-time Pro Bowler, the 1994 AFC Player of the Year, and a member of the NFL 1990s All-Decade team.

 

Junior Seau #55

In May 2012, Seau was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. While never diagnosed with a concussion during his playing career, Seau's wife reported that he did admit to experiencing several. The linebacker also experienced insomnia for years leading up to his death.

 

Justin Strzelczyk #73

As an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Strzelczyk's career was cut short by his erratic off-field behavior and legal troubles. Upon his death in a high-speed police chase in 2004, alcohol and drugs were initially blamed. An autopsy revealed that the lineman had suffered brain damage.

 

Andre Waters #20

During his 12-year NFL career, Andre Waters earned a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL. Unfortunately, Waters wound up shooting himself in the head in 2006. An autopsy discovered brain damage sustained during his playing days.

 

Jovan Belcher #59

A young, promising NFL linebacker, Jovan Belcher killed himself in a murder-suicide in December 2012. After killing his girlfriend, Belcher drove to the Kansas City Chiefs' practice facility and shot himself with a handgun in the parking lot.

 

Jovan Belcher #59

After Belcher's death, an autopsy diagnosed CTE in the 25-year-old.

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The current football helmet simply protects against skull fracture. Jenny Morgan and Tate Technology have developed a groundbreaking system for helmetry, which employs coil and compression to displace the energy force hitting the helmet. Instead of entering the brain, the force is redirected. They are showing 46 percent force reduction and believe they can redirect much more energy. The University of Washington has a promising design. Diamond Seal Sports and Kevin McLean have developed a nano-technology called Helmet Glide which is applied to the surface of the helmet. It has been used at schools like USC and reduces the impact of colliding helmets.

Once the concussions occurs, how can the brain be healed? Dr. Jacob Vanlandingham has a nasal spray called Prevacus, which can minimize brain swelling if applied quickly after the hit. Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Kristen Willeumier have treated hundreds of retired NFL players with a combination of a brain spect followed by supplements and hyperbaric oxygen. Dr. David Dubin has shown promising results with the use of neuro-feedback. Dr. Robert Cantu and Chris Nowinski have created a center for research into treatment called the Concussion Legacy Foundation in Boston. Dr. Robert Stern and Ann McKee have established Boston University as a center for that research.

Dr. Julian Bailes has been in the forefront of concussion based research. Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic in a search for solution. This is but a partial list. Stem cell researchers are hopeful that the work they are doing in the field of Alzheimers will have benefit to traumatic brain injury victims.

We will soon announce a foundation called "Athletes Speak Concussion" with iconic athletes advocating awareness and solution. Many of the leading neurologists in the field have agreed to serve on an advisory board. I speak out on this issue daily.

The NFL dominates American culture; it is not going away. Neither are other collision sports or automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles or horses. Concussions occur in all these activities. Awareness and innovation in prevention and treatment is urgently needed.

Related Story: Why 'Concussion' Is Must-See Movie

-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.