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The Cost of Concussions


More than 300,000 sports-related concussions, the most common form of brain injury, are reported each year in the U.S. That figure is expected to grow as more athletes engage in contact sports.

On March 7, experts from law, medicine, pharmacy, and business, along with former professional athletes and their families, gathered at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law for "The State of Concussions," a wide-ranging symposium on how to protect athletes through advances in law, public health, and medicine.

Sponsored by UM Carey's Journal of Business & Technology Law, the symposium addressed the legal ramifications of concussions. Among the topics covered were legal consequences of concussions for professional sports franchises, colleges and universities, and secondary schools, responsibility for properly diagnosing concussions and concussion-like symptoms in athletes, and legislation focused on return-to-play provisions for athletes.

"Lawyers are playing a critical role in today's conversations about athletes' concussions," said Phoebe A. Haddon, JD, LLM, dean of UM Carey Law. "Some are negotiating just compensation for the victims of past head injuries while others are protecting the intellectual property rights of inventors designing new helmets to prevent future concussions."

UM Carey faculty members Marley Weiss, JD, and Michelle Harner, JD, along with Kerri McGowan Lowrey, JD '99, MPH, senior staff attorney with UM Carey's Public Health Law Network Eastern Region, participated in panel discussions on helmet design and technology, decisions affecting athletes returning to play, and litigation and concussions.

The topic of preventing and monitoring concussions was part of a panel discussion that included new technology from Brain Sentry, a Maryland company that produces helmet-mounted sensors that help identify players who should be assessed for concussions.

But even with monitoring, contact sports still pose a risk for athletes, noted Alan Faden, MD, professor of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the Center for Shock, Trauma and Anesthesiology Research (STAR) and National Study Center for Shock and EMS at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

"In many cases head injury causes a progressive degeneration of the brain somewhat like Alzheimer's disease does because of inflammation that may persist for many years after the trauma," Faden said.

Eleanor Perfetto, PhD, University of Maryland professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Health Services Research of the School of Pharmacy, provided personal testimony about the effects of concussions on athletes and their families. Perfetto's husband, Ralph Wenzel, played seven seasons as a guard in the National Football League (NFL) before developing dementia as a result of repeated head trauma. When Wenzel died in 2012 of complications related to his sports-induced dementia, physicians determined his brain had shrunk to the size of a 1-year-old's brain.

"We have come a tremendous distance in learning and getting the word out about traumatic brain injuries since my husband was diagnosed with his illness in 1999," said Perfetto.

Watch a video clip of Eleanor Perfetto:
http://youtu.be/5kaay90z1T8

Perfetto was joined by Sylvia Mackey, widow of NFL player John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts. Mackey played 10 seasons in the NFL, including a key performance in the Colts' 1971 Super Bowl V victory. Mackey died in 2011 from complications related to repeated concussions. Sylvia Mackey petitioned the NFL to start the 88 Plan, so named for Mackey's jersey number, a benefit that allows players and their families to collect $88,000 annually to care for players diagnosed with brain injuries.

Watch a video clip off Sylvia Mackey:
http://youtu.be/QQ2nVd1gdCU

Colin Cloherty, a UM Carey Law first-year student and former NFL player, noted the sport's "locker room" mentality encourages athletes to play with head injuries--a situation he hopes will change as athletes, coaches, and other professionals learn more about the effects of concussions. "There isn't a lot of carryover between professional athletes and that locker room mentality and academia," Cloherty said. "I'm in a unique position where I can be a bridge to help the two sides communicate."

Watch a video clip of Colin Cloherty:
http://youtu.be/Djp6QtQWkFg

Sylvia Mackey says the attitude toward concussions in professional and amateur sports is changing, albeit slowly. "I think they are making progress. It will never be fast enough," she said. "But I think it's good, what is happening today."

Click these links to view the entire symposium:

http://video.law.umaryland.edu/OpenPlayer.asp?GUID=F6A5BCDB-A4F3-4712-8527-92FFB47A8AB5

http://video.law.umaryland.edu/OpenPlayer.asp?GUID=49A318F0-FB62-4336-BE98-E0E94CDDAE4F

http://video.law.umaryland.edu/OpenPlayer.asp?GUID=3211E055-911E-4E29-AC80-E03DE4C39968

http://video.law.umaryland.edu/OpenPlayer.asp?GUID=EFC0E3A5-EF8C-4BA3-B73B-B7FE79821B27

http://video.law.umaryland.edu/OpenPlayer.asp?GUID=58275EA5-2C4B-4C7D-9A21-8BF6F7E6E37C


Photo credits:
syracuse.com | syracuse post-standard
Larry Canner Photography

Posting Date: 03/20/2014
Contact Name: Jill Yesko
Contact Phone: 410-706-3803
Contact Email: jyesko@umaryland.edu