The most troubling aspect of representing professional athletes is the carnage that sports like football take on every joint in the human body. In the days when I represented half of the starting quarterbacks and many of the major stars in the NFL, every Sunday was like an episode of ER. Players would check in with their various injuries and I would consult the physicians desk reference that sat by my bed. Many of them faced the prospect of surgery and we had a list of physicians who could provide a second opinion. I was involved in decision-making that suggested that medical school as opposed to law school might have been better preparation for my career. The athletes were largely in denial about their physical condition. From the days of Pop Warner and Little League they accept the fact that pain and injury are part of the game -- they play under all circumstances and fear being seen as a "training room player." Everyone surrounding the sports accepts the same norms.
This syndrome of denial relieves anyone of the responsibility for preventing injury -- as if we were back in the days of Roman gladiators. A local high school, Newport Harbor, is refusing to simply accept athletic injury as an unpreventable part of the game. Last season they instituted baseline testing for their football team. Baseline testing, called IMPAACT, was developed by Dr. Mark Lovell as a way of establishing a reliable level of cognitive functioning. It is administered pre-season. When a player suffers a head injury a second test is administered to establish how much degrading of faculties has occurred. The player must then be asymptomatic at rest, on an exercise bike, and at practice before heading out on the field to play again. This can prevent the much dreaded "second concussion" syndrome, where two hits in close temporal proximity produce a perfect neurological storm.
A local physician, world-renowned Dr. Daniel Amen, has led the way with novel diagnostic techniques that actually scan the brain and produce a picture that can be compared to a brain in good health. At his clinic in Newport Beach he has developed a protocol that can actually dramatically improve brain function. He has helped hundreds of retired athletes to forestall or prevent Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, premature senility and the depression that can result from multiple head injuries. His breakthrough work should be incorporated throughout sports to alleviate unnecessary suffering. I will write more on Dr. Amen later.
Newport Harbor High School principal Michael Vossen and athletic director Mike Zimmerman took another step forward in player safety last week. They allied with the LEAPS consortium and Drs Anthony Chang and Anjan Bartra to provide cardiac screening for all their football players. There have been too many tragic stories of athletes collapsing and dying suddenly from an undiagnosed prior condition. This approach avoids unforseen tragedy and raises community awareness as to the necessity of this screening for all athletes. The concept of preventative medicine needs to spread throughout sports. The NFL is the most popular sport in the country today and gets the majority of focus on injury issues. The threat however is also ever present at the collegiate and high school level. Every parent with a son or daughter playing a sport that has exertion as a component needs the cardiac screening. And every parent with a son or daughter involved in collision sports at any level needs to demand baseline testing prior to play. The adolescent brain is at a higher level of risk and takes longer recovery time -- and those students are trying to achieve academically.
Highest praise goes to the prudent parents of Newport Harbor High School athletes for demanding a higher level of care for their precious children. Major kudos to the administration of the high school for taking action. This is an example for the nation.
Follow Leigh Steinberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LeighSteinberg