No Answers to My Questions – Unasked by CNN – On ‘Concussion Awareness’

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A few days before the Super Bowl, CNN’s medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, did a special on football concussions at the high school level. If you missed it, the YouTube video is embedded at Dustin Fink’s Concussion Blog:

From the perspective of my friend Dustin, the CNN piece is great because it boosts the stock of an underappreciated profession: athletic trainers. They’re the first responders when something bad happens on the field, and their very presence fortifies a culture of health and safety.

I, personally, am less impressed by Gupta’s journalism. The dedication of an hour block to the concussion issue is valuable, without a doubt. But Big Hits Broken Dreams doesn’t break new ground. It’s more of the same “concussion awareness” message, a lot of which I consider hooey: baseline tests, Zack Lystedt laws, exploitation of tearjerker anecdotes without really talking about the elephant in the room. Which is that kids “need” to be playing football only because everyone, including their parents, “needs” football’s sick fix.

The central tearjerker anecdote on CNN is the 2008 death of a Greenville (North Carolina) Rose High School player, Jaquan Waller, and the subsequent self-criticism and football program reforms undertaken by the Pitt County School District under superintendent Beverly Emory.

On Tuesday, I faxed and emailed the questions below (along with a respectful preamble) to Superintendent Emory. Yesterday I followed up with a voicemail message to her assistant.

No reply.

1. Though I do not believe the brand was named on CNN, Pitt County appears now to be using the ImPACT concussion management system. There is a lot of skepticism with respect to the efficacy of neurocognitive testing in general, and there is special criticism leveled at the market leader of the field, ImPACT, which was described by an expert in a recent article in Slate as “a huge scam.” I do understand that ImPACT shows that the district is trying to do something proactive and useful. But can you please explain (beyond anecdotes of a player or two who sat out following a concussion) why this product gives you confidence that what you are doing is truly effective?

2. The CNN piece reports how Pitt County now invests in various health and safety measures for its football programs: athletic trainer, paramedic on call, ImPACT baselines and procedures for a doctor’s return-to-play clearance, etc. But we do not learn how much these measures cost. So I have a two-part question. First part: What is the budgetary bottom line for improved football safety in your district? Second part: Was there ever at any point a debate or meaningful deliberation over whether the funding was worth it — if the district’s mission could not have been better served by simply eliminating football and using the savings to upgrade other activities over which student disability or death, along with potential attendant liability, did not so continuously and ominously hover? And if the answer to Part 2 is no — why not?


Irv Muchnick

For complete info on our ebooks – DUERSON (November 2011), UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero (January 2012), and George Visger’s OUT OF MY HEAD: My Life In and Out of Football (February 2012) – see

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Concussion Inc. - Author Irvin Muchnick