Texas Is Getting Serious About Concussions

The state is launching the nation’s largest study into brain injuries in youth sports

Image via Flickr user Stuart Seeger

Everything is bigger in Texas, including efforts to study brain injuries in young athletes. The state, in partnership with University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, announced the launch of a study yesterday that will track every brain injury suffered by Texas’ more than 800,000 public high school athletes in over 20 sports. It will be the largest statewide study of its kind.

The project comes as pressure increases to confront youth football’s underestimated role in long-term brain damage, partially sparked by a recent wrongful death lawsuit filed against Pop Warner. It also comes as a growing body of research shows that brain damage is not restricted to football.

“Until we understand what the frequency of concussions is across the state, or a region of the state, we can’t determine when rule changes, equipment changes or things like recovery programs are really being effective,” Dr. Munro Cullum, a professor of psychiatry, neurology and neurotherapeutics who will lead the study, told the Associated Press.

Scientists have taken few steps to develop treatments for these types of brain injuries, partly because they still don’t understand the scale. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is seeking federal funding for a national database tracking concussions, but meanwhile, the Texas study is a major step toward diagnosing the problem. The University Interscholastic League, the state’s governing body for public high school sports, hopes to use the data to evaluate how rule or equipment changes can improve player safety.

“Right now (concussion data is) a sample that is just a snapshot,” UIL deputy director Jamey Harrison said. “We need to move beyond that.”

News of this study also comes the same week that the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a concussion-related class action settlement between the NFL and more than 20,000 retired players. The settlement will cover medical benefits for players who suffered concussions and related injuries, costing the NFL up to $1 billion. However, some ex-players argued the decision was insufficient because it did not cover the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and for excluding current retirees who don’t yet have neurological problems.

“We look forward to working … to implement the settlement and provide the important benefits that our retired players and their families have been waiting to receive,” the NFL said in a statement.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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