Here are the issues why there is a fuss over Soccer's Abby Wambach's recent head injury and the ref's decision to stop the AT from examining her after she collapsed in the game.
1. Asking a concussed player if he/she is ok to play is like asking a drunk if he/she is ok to to drive.
2. Women are different than men when it comes to head injuries.
3. Children role model their play on how professional athletes play.
Concussed players are impaired and cannot make a determination if they are ok to play. This is one of the main the reasons that ATCs and other medical staff are present at games.
On the second point, we know women concuss at a higher rate then men but we are only at the point of guessing why due to neck strength, hormones, and/or genetic factors. And in general, women in general take longer to recover from concussions.
From American Medical Society for Sports Medicine Position Statement: Concussion in Sport 2012, page 6:
"Recent data suggest that in sports with similar rules female athletes sustain more concussions than their male counterparts.
- In addition, female athletes experience or report a higher number and severity of symptoms as well as a longer duration of recovery than male athletes in several studies."
And I am convinced that it is not because women being more honest, sensitive or fearful to return to sports. There is a real issue here. I recently presented in Washington, DC, at the Institute of Medicine (IOM)/National Research Council (NRC) workshop on sports-related concussions in youth where almost every presentation brought up the issue of women and concussions and the need for more studies. The most alarming moment was when Tim Kelly, Head ATC of West Point spoke of how he sees a longer recovery time needed for his female cadets athletes than his male cadets. If there ever was a cohort of similar males to females as far as physical strength, personal determination and fortitude, I think West Point Cadets is it. Women are not just more honest, sensitive or fearful to return to sports. There is a real issue here.
So the bottom line is we have to educate parents, girls, coaches, trainers and doctors about head injuries and the risks. I spent my days working on this issue but there is no funding and only a few select media moments where we can get the message out.
On Super Bowl Sunday 2013, JIm Nantz provided one moment when he stated on a pre-game show with Roger Goodell that “women’s soccer players are 2 1/2 times more likely to suffer a concussion than college football player." What Nantz meant to say was to compare women’s soccer to "men soccer", not to football players. This “misquote” caused controversy as press, and soccer-football fans alike scrambled to google the correct statistics. It also was the inspiration for our website www.PinkConcussions.com all about the issues of female concussions.
And on the last point, children are watching and do model their style of play on adults. How an athlete plays to how they celebrate a victory after a goal are all absorbed in by young players. Wambach's decision to play on and ref and trainer's response was a golden teachable moment. The medical staff, coaching staff and the ref had a chance to stop play and check her out which would have been following their own protocol. This did not happen and thus Stefan's article and the media response has been a windfall to spread concussion education to more people, parents and players.
Sports Culture will always be more powerful than any warning from a doctor or lecture from an educator... We are hoping to change the current sports culture about playing thru head injuries and making refs. coaches and ATCs more aware of the need to check out players right after the hit and not just after the game.