University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – Where Concussion Inc.’s Solution Is Concussion Inc.’s Problem

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by Irvin Muchnick


Like many of us, Chris Nowinski, the sports concussion advocate, is more likeable when he’s droll than when he’s earnest and brand-building. Maybe more effective, too.

Earlier this week, Nowinski, aka @ChrisNowinski1, tweeted: “Hey football, everything is safer than it’s ever been. War is also safer than it’s ever been….”

Nowinski, the founder and executive director of the Sports Legacy Institute, was referring to all the new measures that are being directed toward reversing lower participation levels in youth football. The problem – and this is me talking now, not Nowinski – is twofold. One, the New Safety is found more in the breach than in the observance. Two, the New Safety is the Old Safety, and it doesn’t work.

Go ahead and rejigger your helmets and embed them with sensors and tabulate hit counts. Blab on about headless blocking and tackling. Pay to put athletic trainers, neurologists, and Navy Seals medics in the stands … on the sidelines … hell, in the huddles. You’re not going to change the essence of tackle football.

America’s parents are waking up to that reality. Too slowly, and in fits and starts, but inevitably.

The “too slowly, and in fits and starts” part is what I call Concussion Inc.: our wacky, All-American transitional ecosystem of alternating wake-up calls and solutions. These are driven by funding, which in turn is driven by industry. Safer cars? Sure, bring ’em on; autos are a staple of transportation and modern life. Safer football? Well, that one is as discretionary as it is elusive. We should be finding better ways for the flow of capital’s winners and losers.

All this is the subtext – here and there, the actual text – of my forthcoming book, CONCUSSION INC.: The End of Football As We Know It. (You can pre-order at, too, is safer than ever!)

One of the biggest and most conflict-crazed players in Concussion Inc. is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the subject of my 2012 ebook short UPMC: Concussion Scandal Ground Zero (also, at,the safest buck-forty-nine you’ll ever fork out!).

It so happens that Dr. Joseph Maroon and his merry band of traumatic brain injury pranksters are also the subject of a feature in Sunday’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “UPMC’s concussion efforts grow,”

In the article by reporter Bill Toland, we learn that:

  • The UPMC Center for Sports Medicine occupies “3,500 square feet on the city’s South Side, plus five sites spread around Pittsburgh — and already, they’ve just about outgrown their headquarters, office and clinical footprint. Soon they may outgrow Pittsburgh.”
  • Though a for-profit company, ImPACT Applications Inc. “is intertwined with UPMC’s concussion center. [Micky] Collins and Mark Lovell, the founding director of UPMC concussion program since 2000, are also the co-founders of ImPACT.” Another co-founder is Dr. Maroon, whose oxymoronic hats also include team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers and medical director for WWE.
  • Collins says “hysteria” over concussions is at its zenith. What a coincidence.
  • “Even the fiercest critics of the ImPACT system — those who say cognitive baseline testing is still unproven, and who note that the body of scientific data on ImPACT is largely made up of self-referential papers published by UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine — acknowledge that, on the treatment side of the equation, UPMC is asking and answering important questions.”
  • ImPACT is still groping for the right “business model,” according to Collins. The Post-Gazette newshound suggests it might be “UPMC-branded treatment centers,” or “consultation and management teams that go site to site, setting up replica protocols and clinics at local hospitals.” UPMC has launched a new media campaign with TV ads featuring NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. and baseball catcher David Ross.

A couple of the things you’ll learn only here, thanks to the crack staff at LLP:

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did rah-rah reports on UPMC’s “ethics policy,” which apparently prohibits its clinicians from accepting free pencils and coffee mugs from marketers for pharmaceutical companies. But the ethics policy – which is not published, by the way – does not prohibit the wide-ranging and leveraged entrepreneurial ventures of its docs. (For example, Maroon and a UPMC cardiologist, Bryan Donohue, are among the hucksters and equity-holders on behalf of supplements ranging from “Sports Brain Guard” to red-grape extract for good health and “longevity.”) One reason the Pittsburgh media don’t go deep with this kind of coverage is that health care, real and imagined alike, is the main growth industry of post-smokestack Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
  • Chuck Finder, a former Post-Gazette sportswriter who shilled for Maroon, UPMC, and ImPACT, slid over to a position as a media relations flack at UPMC. According to Finder’s LinkedIn bio, he also is still a “correspondent” for

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