Last week the Palm Beach Post published a story about a player for the NHL's Florida Panthers who agreed to donate his brain for research to the Sports Injury Institute. It is working in conjunction with Boston University's School of Medicine to expand the base of knowledge in the area of how concussions and other sports injuries affect an athlete's brain function.
Stories have been written about athletes, especially retired NFL players, whose brains were so severely damaged that they appeared to belong to men decades older or those that were in the early stages of Alzheimer's.
The NFL has been engulfed in controversy for some time now about whether it believes that concussions and on-field head trauma contribute to a lack of brain function and disease in later life. As a lawyer I understand their disinterest in connecting the dots for purposes of building a trail of blame and liability. What I don't understand is why they wouldn't do their best to find and endorse something that is simple, relatively inexpensive and effective.
They have mandated use of a chin strap on a player's helmet which an NFL team dentist says directly contributes to concussions because of the positioning of the jaw and the likelihood that the bone will strike the temporal lobe of the brain. And while a concussion policy in the league has been instituted to prevent players from being forced back onto the field without regard to their health, prevention seems to be the solution in the long run, at least to me.
After I wrote about Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback Trent Green and the fears for him returning to the game after the most severe level of concussion identified by medical professionals, I heard from Mark Picot of Mahercor Laboratories, LLC. Headed up by Gerald Maher, the aforementioned Patriots' team dentist, who has worked with them for decades, Mahercor Labs has developed a mouth guard specifically to help prevent concussions. Hundreds of current and former Patriots players are enthusiastic customers and take their knowledge with them as they join other teams. Dr. Maher's product is currently used in high school, college and professional sports including hockey, lacrosse and football. Mahercor's website contains information about its latest market: the military.
It not only assists in keeping injuries from being catastrophic, it has been shown, in anedcotal evidence to keep the athletes from incurring concussions in the first place.
And while the NFL is acutely aware of Dr. Maher, his product and the success rate not only with the Patriots but also other athletes in the league, there hasn't been a meeting between them that has resulted in any progress towards the league learning about the effectiveness of the device. There was an invitation from Commissioner Goodell for Dr. Maher to present his data to a group in Ottawa but Maher declined. His reason was simply that the research in Ottawa was being conducted on test dummies and not human beings. Individual athletes or NFL teams are free to work with Dr. Maher if they choose. But if you just haven't heard about the mouth guard and rely on the NFL's recommendation you probably aren't aware of it or if you are, then you might not be convinced of the effectiveness of the device.
As each weekend goes by and another athlete goes down to a concussion (this past weekend a three-player collision in the Tampa Bay/Seattle game netted two) I wonder when the players in the NFL will learn that waiting for the league to put its stamp of approval on something could jeopardize their health.