Student-led Panel Confronts Concussion Crisis

  • By Jonathan Hartley
Concussion Panel

Concussions and traumatic brain injuries are a pressing topic at all levels of sport from youth participation to professional leagues. Sport Management senior Chris Markowitz was initially connected to the topic as a result of his own experience with concussions and has taken on the cause through academic research, fundraising and recently helping to organize a panel of experts who shared their knowledge and insights at LeBow.

The panel, organized in partnership with the Concussion Legacy Foundation and the Department of Sport Management, featured speakers with an impressive array of knowledge and expertise in the areas of professional sports, medical research and practice, and activism. The evening began as Markowitz introduced a video message from Drexel’s Athletic Director, Eric Zillmer, who spoke about the risks student athletes face and the pressing need for techniques to combat those risks.

The medical professionals on the panel, Roni Robinson, nurse practitioner at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and Christopher Renjilian, attending physician at CHOP, both spoke about the recent advances in medical understanding of concussions due to increased research activity. That research has produced insights into the best treatment and recovery methods. One of those methods is summed up in the mantra, “early rest is best.” Immediate rest, followed by a controlled return to exercise, is shown to promote healing. The research also makes clear that avoiding impacts to the head to the youngest athletes through actions such as banning the use of the head in youth soccer, are beneficial.

The panelists with professional athletic backgrounds, Nicole Baxter, a soccer player in Sweden and LeBow graduate student, and Brad Quast, a former NFL linebacker, emphasized the need for culture change at all levels of sports, especially youth. They cited players’ desire to be perceived as tough as an impediment to self-reporting head injuries, which places responsibility with coaches and trainers to take any sign of trauma seriously.

Advocating for a greater knowledge of brain injury warning signs was a common theme throughout the evening and is the primary goal of panelist Graham Thomas’ Untold Foundation. He shared his own experiences with missing the signs of brain injury in his son and how he now dedicates his time and energy to raising awareness.

The panel was to some degree a culmination of work that is being done in the Sport Management program throughout the year. “It was an example of the degree to which our faculty, program advisor, and students collaborate to address critically important issues that are happening in the sport industry through classes and experiential learning opportunities,” says Professor Ellen Staurowsky. “For several years, the department has focused on the effects of the concussion crisis on athletes from legal and policy dimensions.”

The evening provided glimpses of optimism in the fight against concussions, but also some warnings about how much is left to learn. “It’s reassuring to know that there are organizations dedicated to researching better methods to identify and treat brain injuries,” says Markowitz. “However, it has also been eye-opening to learn how little we actually know about the brain and how to protect it.”

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