Outside medical experts to join NFL summit on concussions

May 03, 2007|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN REPORTER

Medical experts outside the NFL have long disagreed - sometimes vehemently - with the findings of the league's concussion committee. Now, some of those experts will get a chance to make their points in person.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has summoned physicians and athletic trainers from every team, as well as his concussion committee, to a summit on mild traumatic brain injury June 19 in Chicago.

In a move that is being applauded outside NFL circles and was first reported by ESPN.com, the league also invited a number of concussion experts who have criticized the league's research.

"To me, it's wonderful news, and it appears to be a departure from a previous, more-closed approach," said Dr. Julian Bailes, the chairman of West Virginia University's department of neurosurgery. "It's encouraging, bringing in the outside opinions."

According to league spokesman Greg Aiello, the decision to open the summit to outside commentary came from the committee itself, which is co-chaired by Dr. Ira Casson and Dr. David Viano.

Goodell's decision to bring medical experts together is another push for change within the league. Last month, he unveiled a new personal conduct policy that threatened NFL misfits with harsher penalties.

Now, in the wake of controversy surrounding the suicide of Andre Waters and the onset of Alzheimer's disease-like symptoms in 34-year-old Ted Johnson, he wants to ensure that players who have suffered from concussions are treated appropriately.

"At no time should competitive issues override medical issues," Goodell said last week at a meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors. "Safety comes first."

Goodell said he is seriously considering mandating baseline neuropsychological tests to aid in the treatment of concussion victims. Computerized, baseline tests would be administered at the beginning of a player's career or the start of the season to have a cognitive comparison once a player has suffered a concussion.

According to Dr. Andrew Tucker, the Ravens' team physician, all teams use some form of neuropsychological testing now. He tests the Ravens who play at positions of highest risk - running back, wide receiver, defensive back and quarterback - along with players who had concussion issues in the past.

"A final decision on mandating that is probably fairly imminent," Tucker said.

Tucker, a longtime member of the league's concussion committee, said this isn't the first seminar involving NFL medical personnel and outside experts. He said there was a similar meeting in New York in the 1990s when the concussion committee was first getting started.

"I think we all have the same goal," he said. "Everybody in medicine is trying to improve the care of their patients."

Michael V. Kaplen, president of the Brain Injury Association of New York state, has been one of the most vocal critics of the NFL concussion committee. He disagrees with the committee's contention that there is no proof of long-term repercussions for a player who has suffered repeated concussions. He also said a player who has suffered a concussion should not return to the same game and should remain sidelined for at least a week.

According to an NFL committee study, 52 percent of players who suffered a concussion during a six-year period returned to the same game.

Kaplen said he doesn't believe it will be hard to convince the NFL that allowing 52 percent of concussed players to return is the wrong move. He hopes to be invited to Chicago to prove it.

"It's not a hard sell," he said. "That's where medical evidence is right now. That's where the majority of medical opinion is. If they're serious [about player safety], it's not a hard sell."

Dr. Michael Apuzzo, editor of Neurosurgery magazine, will open the Chicago meeting as the keynote speaker.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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