By Leigh Steinberg
5:05 PM PDT, June 23, 2013
Since I became alarmed some 30 years ago about the lack of certainty for long-term consequences caused by concussions suffered by my superstar NFL clients, the news has gotten progressively more discouraging.
Breakthroughs in brain research and extensive testing of retired athletes has made it clear that our society is about to witness an epidemic of symptoms and damage in athletes in a variety of sports. Training techniques have created a new breed of robo-athletes able to run more quickly at greater size with unprecedented power. The physics of the collision have changed.
Pioneer researchers like Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Julian Bailes, Dr. Robert Hovda and Dr. Kevin Guskiewicz have conducted studies, which seem to point toward three or more concussions as a trigger point. Multiple concussions can cause exponentially higher rates of ALS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, premature senility and dementia, elevated rates of depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It has become clearer that low-level concussive events occur on every play in a game like football. The player is stunned, stays on the field and is never diagnosed. An offensive lineman playing in high school, college and the NFL could retire having suffered 10,000 low-level brain events, the aggregate having the same effect on the brain as a small number of dramatic hits.
After being involved with six concussion seminars and understanding the depth of this danger we never have been able to find a way to stop the concussion from occurring or do much to treat the consequences. The brain is the key to personality, memory and judgment so this is an injury much different than any other. I have asked repeatedly why the same technological innovation which can send a space launch to Mars can't be employed in protective devices and healing modalities. A group of researchers and technologists are finally addressing the problem — and there is hope.
A group of innovators and solution-minded individuals gathered Friday for a Concussion Awareness Summit in Minneapolis run by Brewer Sports and visionary Jack Brewer. This is a group committed to education that Thursday ran a Sports Law Conference. Former player Toi Cook, Gerard Casale and Steven Silton have worked hard to help Brewer put this together. One of the organizers of the concussion event, Gerald Commissioning is CEO of Amarantus BioScience, which is searching for a way to cure the symptoms. I was excited and honored to be the keynote speaker at the summit.
I also met last week with Dr. Jacob VanLandingham, whose Florida-based firm Prevacus is getting close to a solution. Former athlete Christopher Nowinski has done groundbreaking work in this field. There are many groups across the country racing to find a cure for concussion impairment, and the summit gives them a chance to compare notes.
I am close to announcing a new non-profit foundation to promote awareness and research we are calling Athlete's Speak with iconic athletes on the board backed by the leading neurologists as an advisory committee. On the prevention front, I met with a woman with a new helmet design, that will be announced soon, that attenuates 90% of the energy wave that occurs from a blow to the head. Remember that most helmets are strictly designed to prevent skull fracture. There are other promising technologies to cushion the head itself.
A solution to this problem will not only provide healing for untold pain and suffering, the first companies operating in this area will reap an economic bonanza. Free enterprise provides an additional incentive for innovation.
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.