Concussion Legacy Foundation Hosts Workshop to Cap Off Speaker Series

As the Marist Center for Sports Communication’s fall virtual speaker series came to an end on Wednesday, students were able to participate in a workshop sponsored by the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), hosted by CEO Chris Nowinski and Education Content Manager Brandon Boyd. As co-founder and CEO of CLF and a former professional wrestler for the WWE, Nowinski is no stranger to concussions. He introduced his personal story by concluding that he’d, “been kicked in the head too many times as a wrestler and developed post-concussion syndrome.” 

The first thing that was imperative for students to understand was what a concussion is. Concussions occur when neurons attached by axons in the brain stretch and tear when impacted, and therefore cause the axons to decay and communication between neurons to cease. This action causes toxins to release and kill other neurons, which results in the symptoms of the concussion: blackout, headaches, blurred vision and onset of anxiety and depression. Symptoms of concussions can last days or weeks.

The next step in understanding the workings of concussions, diagnosis, and care is to understand the major risks associated with concussions. Boyd highlighted the three major risks: longer recovery, post-concussion syndrome, and second impact syndrome.  By not addressing the signs and symptoms of concussions in athletes, they can experience longer recovery by three days and longer symptoms by two days. Similarly, Boyd emphasized that post-concussion syndrome (PCS) can be suffered through symptoms for more than six weeks and can be permanent. Lastly, second impact syndrome occurs when recovering athletes sustain a second concussion causing massive brain swelling that may lead to profound disability or death.  Boyd claimed that, “less than ten cases of second impact syndrome happen in the US every year”, so it is a rare yet dangerous scenario.  

The workshop was specifically looking to address the need to change the stigma around diagnosing concussions and the conversations about educating the public, specifically young athletes, about the seriousness of concussions. These conversations didn’t particularly change until 2007. Boyd emphasized the case that NFL players were still allowed to return to the same game after suffering a concussion with loss of consciousness until 2007.  

The idea of a tough guy mentality, or in the words of Boyd, “Iron Man mentality”, is something in the works of changing throughout sports media.

“It takes honesty,” Boyd insisted. “We don’t know that this is problematic until we see it’s problematic.” By seeing our favorite players talk about it and join the conversation surrounding concussions, and its post-injury symptoms, it helps make the injury less of something to simply “shake off”. 

The final things that Boyd wanted to address in the workshop were the dos and don’ts of discussing concussions.  The first was to not cover an event without knowing the league’s concussion protocols. By doing this and knowing the terminology, the individual would be able to rightfully educate the public. One of the examples of terminology Boyd gave is “fencing”. This position is when an athlete’s arms or legs are splayed upwards and outwards after head impact; this is in response to brain stem impact. Another major “don’t” that Boyd emphasized was saying head injury as a synonym for concussion is wrong; a concussion can be referred to as concussion, brain injury, or traumatic brain injury. The terms “ding” and “bell ringer” are also vocabulary that should be retired because they minimize the real danger behind concussions and the symptoms that many athletes experience.  

Before having Boyd speak, students were asked to complete a 19-question pre-challenge to consider one’s knowledge before going through the workshop. Addressed within this were the key points of speaking about and understanding concussions. Post-workshop students are now able to complete a post-challenge and become certified in conveying information about concussions.

Edited by David Connelly & Sam DiGiovanni

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