We have learned much about concussions in recent years. But what we know does not match the darkness that remains.
That is why the Sports Concussion Institute's National Concussion Summit held Friday and Saturday in Marina Del Ray, Calif., is another important step in unveiling preventive measures, diagnosis and treatment.
It will be attended by national leading experts in the concussion field along with the NFL's leading medical officials. It is an opportunity to share the latest data, techniques, equipment and treatment. It is a chance to push the concussion agenda to the forefront of NFL consciousness.
Right where it belongs.
It has long been a tricky subject for the league. It used to operate more in theories and remain private on the issue. But Dr. Tony Strickland, director of the Sports Concussion Institute, has seen the NFL in recent years join forces with his group and with others to find the best methods to deal with concussions.
And extinguish the stigmas long associated with them.
"It used to be the thought that concussions in the NFL were simply dings, or you got your bell rung," Strickland said. "You saw a few stars, maybe blacked out a while, pulled yourself together and got back out there. You know, just shake it off. But we've learned more about the harmful effects of concussions in the last five years than we did in the previous 50. And how to be smarter and safer."
This summit will examine concussion issues relating to high school, college and pro football, among other sports.
Experts describe concussions as a type of traumatic brain injury resulting from the sudden, violent movement of the head during an impact which causes the brain to move inside the skull. When the brain is moved suddenly, its function can be disrupted and it may be physically damaged, causing a variety of signs and symptoms. Among them are amnesia, disorientation, nausea and depression.
The brain continues to grow and enlarge until the age of 25. Thus, children are the most at risk in suffering concussions.
The physical, clashing nature of football makes it the prime contact sport for concussion risks.
Think about it: The very nature of the game, its culture, preaches toughness. The ability to take a hit and give one. Thus, players used to think that a "ding" or having their "bell rung" was minor and that not returning to games was a sign of weakness. Now they are more knowledgeable. So are their coaches and medical staff.
Strickland said what the NFL has learned and implemented in its concussion treatment that is of paramount importance is forcing a player who has suffered a concussion to gain rest. For an NFL or collegeiate player, three days of complete rest are usually required. For a high school player, seven days are usually required.
Simply following that rule is a major starting component in treating concussions.
Also paramount is understanding that complete recovery from a first concussion is critical before sustaining a second one. And realizing that several repeat concussions appear to indicate long-term health issues.
We all saw last season the frightening concussion and spinal-related injuries to Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everrett and watched his miraculous recovery. We will watch this season as former Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan and former Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas resume their careers after a playing hiatus due to concussions. Morgan with the New Orleans Saints, and Thomas with the Dallas Cowboys, must be monitored closely for concussion-related incidents and symptoms, Strickland said.
"And I have no doubt their teams and the NFL will," Strickland said. "There is an openness now in the discussion and in the data shared that is moving us closer to being able to answer questions about viable preventive measures and treatments."
The more information and concussion analysis that is shared, the safer the game becomes. And the darkness becomes light.