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Negligence on the Sidelines – Thoughts on the Uproar in Michigan

Thoughts on the Uproar in Michigan – Football can be a brutal sport full of heavy hits and injuries. All too often bravado (or, as some would see it, ignorance) keeps players on the field after suffering devastating injuries. As a clinician who has helped many young athletes who are struggling with life-altering symptoms caused by concussions. I have seen the high costs paid for this ignorance. Players, teams, and families all suffer when coaches choose to ignore the signs that a player has an injured brain.

Case in point…the recent University of Michigan football game where the Wolverines were trailing significantly late in the game and quarterback Shane Morris took what appeared to be a blatant illegal hit to the chin from a Minnesota defender (Watch the video at Deadspin).

That hit would have stopped any person of great strength dead in their tracks, potentially killing one of lesser stature.

Roughing the passer was calling on the defender that inflicted. That was the lesser of disciplinary options for this type of aggressive action that was clearly delivering. Even though he was no longer a threat to the Minnesota squad.

But What About the Coaches?

What about the very individuals that this young man’s safety, well-being, trust, and livelihood were entrusting to?

Certainly, there is a mindset and code of conduct in the ultra-competitive sports world that many on the outside will never understand, but there is also a time when common sense prevails, and stories like this need to be used as an example to protect those that have given their all to the sports they love – Thoughts on the Uproar in Michigan

Cries for the removal of Michigan Head Coach Brady Hoke, and even Athletic Director Dave Brandon, have been pouring into the University since the time of the incident, mostly from University of Michigan fans. Director Brandon was quoted as saying, “Ultimate responsibility for the health and safety of our student-athletes resides with each team’s coach and with me, as the Director of Athletics.” He further noted, “We are committed to continuously improving our procedures to better protect the health and welfare of our student-athletes.”

These words are mere lip service. What Brandon said does not change the fact that this young man continued to play after suffering a traumatic brain injury, as evidenced by his incoherence and inability to stand on his own two feet. Yet the coaches on the field made no attempt to remove and evaluate the young star? You would think they would want to preserve and protect one of their biggest assets, in case of an impending loss.

What Should Have Been Done

Morris should have immediately been removing from the game the moment he started showing signs that he had a concussion; which was the moment he went to the ground and barely got up! Whether he was facing a loss in the last quarter or playing for a national championship, inability to walk, focus. Communicate was of no great service to himself, his team, or his University. Morris’s basic physical and cognitive functions should have been testing immediately after he took the hit. Tests measuring his basic memory and cognitive skills (i.e. name, date, hometown, basic addition, etc.). Eye movements and light responses, gait, balance, and vital signs (i.e. blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) should have been performing.

After a period of rest, more advanced tests of function would be warranted: videonystagmography and saccadometry for eye movements, Computerized Assessments of Postural Systems (CAPS), cognitive testing batteries for focus, memory, and attention, and more advanced studies such as quantitative EEG for measurement of brainwave activity. Effective intervention to eliminate his functional deficits and decrease the probability of future injuries can only be delivering.

What Good Will Removal of the Coaches Serve?

While I am entirely in favor of the removal of the coaches who did not protect the interests of Shane Morris. I’m not certain this will prove any more effective than the penalties placed on the players delivering these hits. Those are often not appropriately enforcing in cases such as this. There will always be the next Brady Hoke in line to take the job of protecting our athletes. In my opinion, the cultural norms in this high-performance world need to shift in order to ensure incidents. That can only come from the top and I sincerely hope that the NCAA and other organizations take copious notes here to develop action plans to truly protect the players and hold those accountable that put them in harm’s way – Thoughts on the Uproar in Michigan

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