Archive for June 7th, 2011

Prevention, Anyone? Cincinnati Football Strength Clinic Approach to the Concussion Problem Connects the Head to the Neck

Inevitably, my quest to expose the phonies and the hyper-self-interested gives short shrift to a critical subplot of the concussion story: the science of the prevention of traumatic brain injuries before they happen at all. Even if the ImPACT management system, developed by Dr. Joseph Maroon and his National Football League-connected colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, is both effective and on the up-and-up – which evidence suggests it is not – it still only addresses when an athlete who has already suffered a traumatic head injury can return to play. It does nothing about the first concussion.

And though Alan Schwarz of The New York Times is on to something about helmet hype and what he calls the “conspiracy” at the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, I am not the only one who believes his investigations skim the surface of the overall public-health issue and exaggerate the extent to which better helmet oversight can reduce the incidence of multiple-concussion syndrome.

In a January 12 post, “More Questions About WWE Medical Director Joseph Maroon,”, I briefly touched on something called the Maher Mouth Guard. Mark Picot, an executive of the company that produces it, contends that the one NFL team using it, the New England Patriots, has a strikingly low concussion rate in comparison to others’; that as many as a third of all concussions are transmitted through the jaw; and that the league, in mysterious contrast with the American military, simply refuses to give these facts a fair hearing. I will return to mouth guards and their media coverage in due course. I am not an expert and I don’t want to get caught up in endorsing a single product or approach. For my money, the main narrative remains process: the flow of financial and social benefits, along with the human and societal costs, of our country’s No. 1 spectator sport.

On June 17-18, there will be a clinic in Cincinnati featuring presentations by legendary former strength and conditioning coaches Dan Riley (Houston Texans), Mike Gittleson (University of Michigan), and Kim Wood (Cincinnati Bengals). These worthies believe that the key missing piece is strengthening the neck – or, as the literature for their event puts it, “developing muscular structures that dissipate the forces that cause concussions.” For more information about the conference at Cincinnati’s Clifton Cultural Arts Center, go to

The implications of strengthening necks for concussion prevention are uncomfortable for the football economy – a lot more so than conducting a few Congressional hearings on whether the Riddell helmet company failed to adequately footnote the “limitations” of Maroon and colleagues’ NFL-funded research for Riddell’s Revolution model.

One implication is that, if we’re banning kid baseball pitchers from throwing curveballs before their arms have more fully developed, we should be banning kids from playing tackle and collision football. Also, not incidentally, that the cerebrum and cerebellum are somewhat more important body parts to protect than the shoulder and arm.

More on all this in my Beyond Chron piece later this week.


Irv Muchnick

New York Times: No Comment on Reporter Alan Schwarz’s ‘Reasons’ for Soft Coverage of Concussion Doc Joseph Maroon

It is possible to argue that Dr. Joseph Maroon is a low-value target in the national sports concussion story. I would disagree with such an argument, given Maroon’s tentacles into so many aspects of the story, his history of lies, and the fact that his ImPACT concussion management product is front and center in the changes filtering down to high school and youth football programs. But it is possible.

Anyway and unfortunately, that is not the argument of Alan Schwarz of The New York Times. Schwarz quotes Maroon as an expert, with a straight face and without sharing with his readers the background of the doctor’s deep participation in a generation of National Football League experts’ false statements about and denial of concussion syndrome. The Times also has not shed light on the controversy over whether neurocognitive testing systems like ImPACT are very – or even at all – effective.

All this should trouble anyone who would like the American media, led by The Times, to succeed in promoting public understanding of what has caused and what can fix the pandemic of traumatic brain injuries in our sports and entertainment. Equally troubling is how the The New Yorker (which likewise swallows Maroon as a credible authority) has used editorial real estate to quote Maroon praising Schwarz.

On May 27, Schwarz said in an email to me that the Maroon angle of the concussion investigation is a non-issue for “reasons” of which I am “totally unaware.”

Yesterday, in search of those reasons, I queried Times management.

“As a matter of policy, we don’t comment publicly on our editorial decision making,” Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told me. But didn’t Schwarz, in his unsolicited email to me, already do just that?

More importantly, don’t Times readers need something better than the newspaper’s current paint-by-numbers campaign to hang a wide-ranging national health crisis on the football helmet industry?

Irv Muchnick


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June 2011