Concussions in the NFL and NCAA

Jon Kitna returned to a game this year, claiming a miracle cleared his mind in time for him to lead the Detroit Lions to a comeback win.

Was it divine providence or just stupidity?

The NFL has long shied away from a discussion on concussions and the effects they have on their own players.

Dr. Elliot Pellman headed the NFL’s concussion committee since it was founded in 1994 before resigning this year.

He was a rheumatologist, a doctor whose main concern is arthritis, with a degree from the University Autonoma de Guadalajara – not exactly Johns Hopkins.

In Oct. 2003, Pellman and his committee looked at baseline results, a test measuring brain function, to identify a normal range for uninjured players. These would be useful in comparing the post-injury scores to determine the effects of concussions.

However, Pellman ignored much of the data (at least 850 baseline test results were absent) and selected certain players to conclude that players do not show a decline in brain function after suffering concussions. Pellman denies this ever happening, but the evidence is overwhelming from his peers, according to

Timothy Heitzman, an assistant professor of psychology at Fairfield, disputed these claims this spring.

“When the athlete performs suitably on that [baseline] testing he or she is judged to be ready to return,” he said. “This, however, does not mean that they are necessarily safe from repeated injury, especially if they have a history of concussions.”

In Jan. 2005, Pellman’s committee published its seventh paper claiming, “Return to play does not involve a significant risk of a second injury either in the same game or during the season.”

However, many former players are coming forward with signs of depression and other mental problems.

Former Philadelphia Eagle Andre Waters committed suicide last November. When his brain was autopsied, Dr. Bennet Omalu of the University of Pittsburg told The New York Times that his brain was that of an 85-year-old man’s. Waters was 44.

Under criticism from former players, NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw, threatened Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure.

“I’m going to break his … damn neck,” he said, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

However, a 2003 NCAA study of 2,905 college football players found that those who have suffered concussions are more susceptible to further injury for as long as seven to 10 days after the original injury.

Fairfield takes measures to prevent this from happening to their own athletes.

“Student athletes are required to take a neuro-psychological exam (IMPACT test) at the athletic training room to assess brain function and impairment at various intervals during recovery,” said Fairfield’s director of sports medicine, Mark Ayotte, this spring.

“As a rule, any head trauma necessitating an on-the-field exam or removal from play, results in a seven-day minimum waiting period to allow symptoms to clear,” he said.

Yet, there is tremendous pressure even in college sports to get back out on the field, by the fans, coaches and even the players.

“All of these factors tend to make the decision to return an ambiguous one,” said Heitzman.

“In the end, athletes and their coaches need to make many of these decisions on their own with proper ethical consideration to the health of the athlete,” he said.

The Jena Six

More than 50,000 people, including Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, gathered together in a small town populated by only 3,000.

During the march in the small southern town of Jena, La., one of the black demonstrators said, “They haven’t seen this much black here since night,” according to

The incidents leading to this protest started in August 2006.

Junior Kenneth Purvis, a high school running back for the Jena Giants, asked the principal if black students were allowed to sit underneath the oak tree in the school courtyard, a traditional white gathering spot.

After receiving permission, Purvis and several friends sat there later in the day. When they arrived at school the next day, three nooses hung from the trees.

Principal Scott Windham quickly expelled the three students responsible, but a special school board committee overturned the decision and placed them in an in-school suspension.

Then, two fights broke out. In one, a black football player, Robert Bailey, was assaulted by a white student, after which he received a $250 fine and a year of probation. Then, a white teenager pulled a 12-gauge shotgun, which Bailey wrestled away. Only Bailey was charged, after witness accounts varied.

On Dec. 4, the tensions reached a climax. A white student began taunting Bailey, using racial slurs, including the n-word.

Mychal Bell, the star running back, who had attracted the interest of D-I schools, punched the white student, Justin Barker, from behind, while other black students kicked and trampled him, according to ESPN’s review of witness statements.

Barker was knocked unconscious, but was well enough to go to a ring ceremony the same night.

Six students were charged. Their parents were told they would be charged with aggravated battery charges. Then, District Attorney Reed Walters, who had previously told students he could make their lives hell with a stroke of his pen, decided to upgrade to second-degree murder charges along with conspiracy.

An all-white jury convicted Bell in June of aggravated battery, while his court appointed lawyer sat idly by, as he didn’t call a single witness.

Sept. 14, Bell’s conviction was thrown out by an appellate court, however, he was denied bond again.

Five of the six charged have now been reduced, but there is still one teen facing murder charges.

To recap: A black player is assaulted, and his attacker is fined $250. A white student is attacked and six students are charged with murder.

While the black students should be punished, there were mitigating circumstances.

Plus, something is wrong if a black student even has to ask if he can sit in a white gathering spot.

It has been about four decades since the Civil Rights Movement, but there is still a long way to go.

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