By Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
The NFL is facing a daunting number of lawsuits contending it knew of the dangers of traumatic brain injury resulting from concussions but hid that information from its players. Those suits have been consolidated and a local Richmond, VA resident is the lead plaintiff. The widow of former Atlanta Falcon Ray Easterling, Mary Ann, has continued a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NFL following her husband’s suicide in April. The former all-pro free safety suffered from depression and insomnia following his playing days on the famous “Grits Blitz” defense during the 1970s. Nineteen Hall of fame players have joined the roughly 2400 other plaintiffs in the suits. Among them are legendary tough-guys Eric Dickerson,Tony Dorsett (and his son, Anthony), Rickey Jackson, John Hannah, Bill Bergey, Bob Lilly, John Randle, the late Lee Roy Selmon and Randy White.
The NFL is aware of the risks to its fiscal well-being, and has implemented tougher rules on concussions. It has also publicly come down hard on teams like the New Orleans Saints for so-called bounty programs designed to knock players out of games. What is curious is the league’s slow pace in adopting technology to disclose concussive hits on the fly and thus prevent further injury to its players. The technology to do that already exists but the league has not yet incorporated it into its safety program.
Down the football food chain in major college programs, there has been little reluctance to protect its players from injury – and themselves from the inevitable lawsuits. Leading the charge is Virginia Tech located in Blacksburg, Va. Partnering with Tech’s own bio-mechanics lab and Simbex corporation, team physician Dr. Gunnar Brolinson developed a system for measuring football head trauma in real time. The system known as HITS (head impact telemetry system) uses wireless technology to monitor up to 18 players while the game is being played. Composed of six quarter-sized sensors (known as accelerometers developed from car airbag technology) embedded in the Riddell helmets worn by Hokie players, a constant stream of information is wirelessly beamed to Simbex headquarters and then to computer monitors on the sidelines. The system even measures cumulative trauma which is also a risk factor for traumatic brain injury.
“We have a pager that alerts me when we receive a high head acceleration,” Brolinson said. “We set the pager at 98g – an impact of 98 times the force of gravity at the Earth’s surface – . We think that’s a fairly significant head acceleration.”
If a hit records above a threshold figure, team physicians or trainers monitor the player for the next play or two. If they detect any sign of concussion, the player is removed from the game and a pre-established protocol is utilized to assess his condition before a decision is made to return him to the game. Virginia Tech has also implemented use of HITS in practice sessions where most concussions occur.
Brolinson says its unreliable to wait for players to complain about head injury. “We frequently find that players sometimes don’t notice that they have a concussion,” Brolinson said. “Most sports related concussions don’t involve a loss of consciousness. This system will generally allow us to determine that the athlete has received a head blow that could result in a concussion.”
There are 1.5 million traumatic brain injuries on a national basis in a given year and about 300,000 are athletes. Football has the largest total,” Brolinson said. The National Institutes of Health is currently studying a proposal to grant funding to the HITS program. “The NIH has recognized that head injury in children is a national problem,” said Rick Greenwald, president of Simbex, adding that the information being gathered using the football helmets is directly related to a number of other areas as well.
“The military is very interested in understanding injury to their soldiers either from direct impact or impact caused by IEDs,” Greenwald said. He noted that his company is providing helmets with similar wireless telemetry to the military for use in the field.
The use of real time head injury information could aid NFL team physicians too in assessing player injury on the fly. Just this season a player suffered a collapse on the field when his head injury went undiagnosed and then suffered a seizure episode on the plane ride home. HITS provides a way for the NFL to protect what it calls its most valuable assets – its players. The delay in implementing the system is hard to fathom — and perhaps doubly so for jurors assessing the cases brought by the former players.
Here’s a video on how the system works:
Source: UPI via PhysOrg
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger