How many times have you heard a sports announcer — following a vicious hit or massive collision — say something along the lines of, “Bet he got his bell rung there” or “I guess he’s seeing stars now.” This sounds a bit more light-hearted, than say, wondering if the athlete has sustained a blow that possibly caused a traumatic brain injury.
The debate on sports-related concussions recently heated up when President Barack Obama called for more robust research into the topic. “We have to change a culture that says, ‘suck it up,’” proclaimed the nation’s First Sports Fan.
Brandon Spradley could not agree more. The former track athlete is completing his doctoral degree in sports management at the United States Sports Academy in Daphne, with his dissertation focusing on sports-related concussions.
“I believe in the last couple of years that coaches realize the danger of concussions,” said Spradley, USSA’s acting director of continuing education. “One of the biggest mistakes, though, is when a concussion goes undiagnosed and the player goes back into the game.”
Spreading the word about the danger of these head injuries has become a mission for the academy. Spradley and Dr. William Steffen, USSA’s chair of sports studies and a former University of Oregon soccer coach, won a grant from the Association of Applied Sport Psychology to assist the cause.
“We received $2,600 for use in a concussion education program,” said Spradley, who was a sprinter at the University of Alabama. “It allows us to go to local schools, where we educate coaches about concussions.”
Spradley begins the process by contacting athletic departments about the program. If they show interest, USSA will put together binders with information about concussions for the coaching staff.
The USSA team also brings the King-Devick Test, a screening tool purchased with the grant. It provides a baseline test for each athlete, and is used when a concussion is suspected.
“On the KD Test, we have the player read a series of single-digit numbers as fast as they can,” Spradley said. “The coach times them, and keeps that data. If they suspect a concussion, the coach or trainer can give the same test and see if there is a big difference.”
Thanks to the grant, USSA is able to donate a King-Devick Test to each school it visits. “A lot of high schools and youth teams do not have a doctor or physician on the sidelines,” Spradley said, “and many don’t even have an athletic trainer. If a coach can get certified on a simple test, it can really help in these situations.”
Spradley said the King-Devick Test is becoming more popular with high school and youth teams.
“If you search on Google, you will see that the Mayo Clinic has studied the test,” said Spradley, whose bachelor degree was in kinesiology while his master’s was in human performance. “We try and break it down to common language for coaches and trainers, so everyone is comfortable using it.”
Spradley said the test is most important in keeping a player with a suspected concussion from going back into action. He said the King-Devick Test is objective data that can be used to examine for a concussion. If one is suspected, then the player can follow up with a more in-depth medical exam.
The sports academy has spoken to about eight schools and youth sports leagues. Spradley said USSA officials hope to make it a permanent part of their community outreach, once additional funding is received.
The King-Devick Test is just one part of the program. USSA also introduces information from professional leagues that deal with concussions.
Spradley mentioned Paul George of the Indiana Pacers. After complaining about headaches and actually passing out, George did not leave the basketball game. He was later diagnosed as having a concussion.
“It could have been very dangerous,” Spradley said. “This is what we call second-impact syndrome, where you have not recovered yet from the first one.
“The young athletes look up and admire these players. They think they are tough and can play through it. This can be a very serious situation.”
At a recent trip to Pensacola, the USSA staff met with 40 coaches from the Southern Youth Sports Association. Also in attendance were concerned parents.
“They are very interested in keeping their children safe,” Spradley said. “Some are thinking about pulling their kids out of collision sports.”
President Obama said during his talk that he would “have to think long and hard” if he had sons who wanted to play football.
Dr. Arthur Ogden, the USSA chair of sports management, joined the discussion in Pensacola.
“He was the athletic director at Auburn in the 1990s, and was a long-time football coach in high school and college,” Spradley said. “He showed the coaches the proper way to tackle, and demonstrated some neck exercises to strengthen the areas of impact.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates almost 4 million concussions occur in sport-related activities each year in the United States. In addition to football, head injuries are found among young boys and girls in a wide range of sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball, lacrosse and hockey.
“USSA is committed to local schools that need our help,” said Spradley. “We plan to continue with the concussion program, because it is an issue that really needs to be addressed.”
To learn more about the academy’s concussion education program, send an email to [email protected] or call 251-626-3303.