Concussions, Ethics, and 15 Minutes

I'm reading a scholarly article on conflicts of interest NFL team doctors have when they treat players. The team pays them, and the team's interest is in having athletes on the field who will help the team win. The doctors have a professional responsibility to the health of their patients. The specific injury of concussions exacerbates this conflict of interest because of the medical uncertainty involved. It's pretty detailed about the concussion diagnosis, treatment, and clearing-for-contact issues. I hope my students get a lot out of it.

Along the way, the author, Daniel Goldberg, discusses the conflict of interest of Dr. Mark Lovell, who is at UPMC, and one of the proprietors behind the ImPACT test that is being touted as a diagnostic tool for recovery from concussion -- touted quite often by Lovell himself, by the way. Lovell was (is?) also a consultant to the Steelers. The NFL, who paid for his research that developed the ImPACT test, has adopted that test for its athletes.

And the NHL seems to be following suit. One practical problem here is that the medical knowledge of concussions, though much better than even just a decade ago, is still rather murky. The ImPACT test is based on assumptions about recovery from concussions that could be seriously flawed.

Even "mild" concussions can have long-term consequences. A small medical study cited in the article concluded that an athlete suffering 3 "mild" concussions is five times more likely to have cognitive impairment and three times more likely to have memory loss. Concussion symptoms can appear years after the injury.

I kept thinking of Kris Letang while reading this, because of the November 27 game against Montréal. Letang left after his injury, took his now-mandatory fifteen minutes in the chill room, was probably asked what day it was and where he was playing that night, and went out to score the OT winner... and miss the next quarter of the season.

The problem: even "mild" concussions take around 36 hours to fully blossom, if you'll excuse the expression. Another study of high school football players cited in the article demonstrated this, and the futility of the fifteen minute wait period. Fifteen minutes is in no way diagnostic.

So whose interests are served by the fifteen minute mandatory rest period? Not the player's!

(I teach philosophy for a living, mainly a course called Professional Ethics, which is why this came up. The citation for the article is: Goldberg, Daniel S. "Concussions, Professional Sports, and Conflicts of Interest: Why the National Football League's Current Policies are Bad for Its (Players') Health)," HEC Forum, 20:4, 2008, pp. 337-355.)

The content expressed in fanposts does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the staff here at FanPosts are opinions expressed by fans of various teams throughout the league but may be more Pittsburgh-centric for obvious reasons.

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