Dr. Steve Devick

Dr. Steve Devick

Michael Haynes says in hindsight that one of his best plays in his storied football career was the decision NOT to play.

During a free seminar sponsored by the United States Sports Academy that delved into one of sports hottest issues – concussions – the NFL Hall of Fame defensive back told a riveted audience about suffering brain trauma for the first time in 1972.

He was a starting freshman safety for the Arizona State Sun Devils and was playing against the Missouri Tigers in the nationally televised Fiesta Bowl. Missouri was on the Arizona State 10-yard line when someone blindsided him on a block. He returned to the huddle wobbly and in a daze. His teammates asked him if he was OK. Then they asked him to tell them the defensive play signaled in from a coach on the sideline. Haynes had no clue.

Trainers came out to check on him and he answered all their questions right. Then his roommate said, “Who am I?” Haynes didn’t know and that’s when he came out of the game.

“Honest to God, I couldn’t tell you who he was,” said Haynes, who won the Academy’s 2011 Distinguished Service Award for his advocacy on player health and safety issues . “I sat down on the bench and put a towel over my head and cried. All I could think was, ‘This is why my mom did not want me to play football. I’m so glad she’s not here.’”

Meanwhile, all of his teammates teased him, getting a kick that he couldn’t tell them their names either.

“It was funny to them,” Haynes said. “It wasn’t considered a serious injury back then.”

However at halftime in the locker room his memory returned. He wanted to go back in the big game. The coaches cleared him to play. However, a senior free safety pleaded for Haynes to sit out so he could play the last game of his football career. Haynes said, “Yes.”

Michael Haynes

Michael Haynes

“He said, ‘Mike, man, it’s my last college game. Please, let me finish the game,’” Haynes recalled. “It turns out it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The doctors were going to let me back in.”

Today, concussions have become a major health issue in sports as mounting research shows a link to serious brain damage, even death.

Playing with a concussion can lead to death from Second Impact Syndrome (SIS), a condition that causes the brain to swell, shutting down the brain stem and resulting in respiratory failure. Even more scary is the fact that children and teenagers are more likely to get a concussion than an adult, and take longer to recover from concussions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out. In the past two years, eight youth have died from concussion-related problems and dozens more have suffered catastrophic brain injuries.

Another growing concern is the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from concussions. CTE is a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head and its symptoms include chronic headaches, fatigue, sleep difficulties, sensitivity to light and noise, dizziness and short-term memory loss. Players who suffered multiple concussions are three times more likely to suffer depression.

It is estimated that every season, 1 in 5 U.S. athletes in a contact sport suffers a concussion and more than 3.5 million sports and related concussions occur each year in the United States. In addition, the chance of a 30-49 year old man receiving a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s or another memory-related disease is 1 in 1,000 and dramatically increases to 1 in 53 for an NFL retiree who is the same age, the CDC reports.

Kimberly Archie

Kimberly Archie

Still, Haynes and three other nationally renowned speakers at the seminar agreed that, although more is known about concussions than in 1972 and even a few years ago, a lot more education is needed throughout the sports world to protect athletes from further permanent injury or even death.

A common theme during the Nov. 11 seminar, “Concussions as Catastrophic Injury in Sport and Cheerleading,” at the Academy’s campus in Daphne, Ala., was the lack of proper planning and protection that currently exists to protect athletes, cheerleaders and others in sports. The Academy was founded on the premise that those in leadership positions in the field of sport must be better trained to teach, train and protect people at all levels from youth sports to professional leagues.

Dr. Steve Devick, one of the featured speakers, invented the King-Devick Test that has indicated in research done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine that it can easily, rapidly and accurately assess whether a player has suffered a concussion and should be removed from play.

“One good thing I hear from teams who use the King-Devick Test is that it gets athletes to shut up and stop saying, ‘I’m fine. Let me back in the game,’” said Devick, who earned the Academy’s 2011 Dr. Ernst Jokl Sports Medicine Award.

Devick emphasized that “there is no such thing as a tough brain.” After a concussion diagnosis, players must rest their brains to properly heal. This includes taking a break from cognitive functions, such as doing school work or playing video games, Devick said.

The recent Academy seminar also featured Kimberly Archie, the National Cheer Safety Foundation founder and CEO, and Dr. Herb Appenzeller, a leading expert and authority on sport law and risk management who won the Academy’s 2011 Distinguished Service Award.

The presentations hit close to home with Melissa Love. She is a nurse for a Fairhope, Ala., neurologist and mother of two boys who play football. They attended the seminar with her.

“This was an exciting and eye-opening program,” Love said. “It is important that we as parents stand up for our kids. There are many youth coaches out there who should have heard these presentations today, so they do what is right.”

Sharon Hawkins watched the seminar that was streamed live on the Internet by Panhandle Sports Broadcasting. Her husband, Wayne Hawkins, was a five-time All-Pro guard in his 10 seasons from 1960-1969 with the Oakland Raiders. He now suffers from short-term memory loss, dementia and even struggles to process mundane daily events, she said.

“I have the feeling that there will be more of this type of conference with many more trainers, coaches, players and family members in attendance,” she said. “This information is life changing. It is so important for those who support the athletes and everyone else to know about concussions and what happens inside the brain.”

One middle school coach, Trey Collins, said he plans to use the King-Devick Test from now on when he’s coaching.

“I think you have to,” Collins said. “You have to look at it, if nothing else, as a preventative issue as far as kids’ safety and the legal issues for yourself and your schools.”

Herb Appenzeller

Herb Appenzeller

Devick said he hopes in the next five years that the test will become commonplace on every sideline in sporting events from youth to professional leagues around the world. In fact, teams from the University of Florida and a professional New Zealand rugby team currently employ it.

One day, Devick even imagines when a teenager falls off his bike and slams his head into the ground, a parent will reach into the medicine cabinet and pull out a King-Devick Test to check whether their child suffered a concussion and needs to be treated by a doctor.

“The real issue with concussions is education,” Devick said. “It is the only thing that is really going to change the way we view head injuries in sport. What we are really discussing is our most valuable asset, which is our children. I think there will be a groundswell and it is already starting.”

Concussion Seminar Summary

A common theme among all of four nationally renowned speakers at the Academy’s free seminar, “Concussions as Catastrophic Injury in Sport and Cheerleading,” was the lack of proper planning and protection currently to help prevent athletes from suffering severe sports injuries. In addition, all the speakers talked about the need to publicize new information that can help leaders in sport educate others so that they can protect the health and safety of athletes. The Academy was founded in 1972 on the premise that those in leadership positions in the field of sport must be better trained to teach, train and protect athletes in youth, amateur and professional sports.

Dr. Steve Devick, an inventor of the King-Devick Test that detects concussions, highlighted the recent research by University of Pennsylvania and talked about the science underlying the test. He stressed that it is not a test to be used to determine if an athlete is ready to return to play after suffering a concussion. That type of testing is beyond the scope of the King-Devick Test. He argued that the test is so inexpensive and easy to administer on the sideline of a sporting event that it should be widely used. He also clearly explained and showed how axons, which transmit nerve impulses, are damaged by head injuries and can lead to brain damage.

Mike Haynes, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive back and a longtime advocate of player health and safety, discussed how the NFL is looking at adopting better safety measures to prevent concussions, which are known more formally as mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). He stressed the importance of preventing repeat injuries by sending players back into action too soon after suffering a TBI. Haynes has worked with NFL officials on player safety issues. He indicated that a few NFL team are quietly using the King-Devick Test and he expects it to become formally used after more review.

Kimberly Archie, National Cheer Safety Foundation founder and CEO, is a leading proponent of cheerleading safety. Her own daughter suffered a catastrophic injury eight years ago while cheering. She has founded a non-profit advocacy group and travels around the country promoting safer cheerleading practices and urging organizations to develop emergency plans for when catastrophic injuries do occur. Archie’s presentation was very powerful. She talked about the numerous serious, life-altering injuries that occur each year from cheerleading accidents. Many of these injuries involve spinal injuries and many involve TBIs.

Dr. Herb Appenzeller, a leading expert and author on sport law and risk management for more than four decades, focused on how risk management involves organizations developing and implementing plans to lessen the possibility of athletes suffering catastrophic injuries and to improve responses when such injuries do occur. Dr. Appenzeller has found in his work that a majority of schools at every level of competition do not have up-to-date prevention plans and they also do not have good response plans in place.

You can also view online a short interview with Devick and Haynes about raising awareness on head injuries.

The Academy will soon have this seminar available complete with graphics and other enhancements for anyone to view online by going to the Academy website.