Archive for March, 2011
Posted on March 31, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Murray Chass is a fellow Pittsburgher, sports writer and beard-wearer, but our similarities end there. He is an acclaimed baseball scribe and Cooperstown honoree, entered into the Hall of Fame in 2003 as a writer. But he wrote something today on his Murray Chass on Baseball column page — he despises the description “blog” — that isn’t precisely correct and, befitting a Hall of Famer, needs a measure of clarification.
In short, Chass lauds the New York Times’ Alan Schwarz for essentially saving America from sports concussions.
Referring to Major League Baseball’s new 7-day disabled list (a subject blogged here yesterday), Chass wrote: “The only thing they didn’t do was give the new list an appropriate name: the Alan Schwarz disabled list. Schwarz’s name should be attached to the list because he singlehandedly has created the coverage of concussions in all sports. His has been the most remarkable feat in sports journalism history.”
Hold off the bronze bust and Nobel prize for a moment, please.
Schwarz wasn’t the first.
Not that yours truly was. But there indeed was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beginning at least in 2002 reams of ground-breaking, valuable information while Schwarz was still covering baseball for the Times. Off the top of this addled brain, others such as ESPN.com Greg Garber and HBO’s “RealSports” waded into the overarching subject of brain injuries long before the Times’ boss — a former Post-Gazette sports editor of mine, by the way — devoted a writer to give the subject more than a New York minute.
As best I can remember and dredge up, I wrote about concussions and brain injuries dating back to 2002, minimum: Tommy Maddox‘s horrifying spinal concussion at Tennessee. I also covered the news conferences announcing he was up and walking the next day, and then upon his return to Pittsburgh.
And what about other sports?
Chass: “Even more, [Schwarz] has done it for all sports and all levels of sports, from pee wee leaguers on up. When you read about what any sport is doing about concussions and other head injuries, think Alan Schwarz. No one paid any attention to those injuries before he began writing about them.”
Well, I don’t recall Schwarz in 2004 following Justin Strzelczyk‘s demons that drove him to his death — as did both the Buffalo News and I. Nor did he write pieces in early 2005 on pole vaulters: This was the third or fourth one I wrote after a Butler County youth spent too long in an intensive care unit after a pole-vaulting brain injury that nearly proved fatal.
The news about the youngest NFL player to be found with CTE and advanced brain damage, that was broken nationally last June in the Post-Gazette — nowhere else. Late NFL receiver Chris Henry was never diagnosed with a concussion, which meant that ordinary football contact, called sub-concussive blows, were just as dangerous as any single impact. . . an unprecedented finding, among others.
And has anyone noticed more than maybe three Times pieces about youth-football concussions before last season? Granted, he wrote two in early 2010 about the Zackery Lystedt law in Washington state (as an aside, Lystedt’s father sent me a lovely thank-you note upon the launch of my series last September). Another of those Times articles was published concurrent with my series, which was focused entirely in a previously uncharted territory: pee-wee to college football players.
Nobody before ever told the stories from their viewpoint, from their visits to concussion specialists, from their parents’ frightened perspectives, from the sidelines to their extended school absences to the new techniques of medication and vestibular exercises (even prescribed to Sidney Crosby).
Pardon me if you noticed these links in the “In the beginning…” blog post that launched this site, but here are the links to that 2010 series:
- Part I, The beginning, introducing the players from ages 11 through senior high who were the unnoticed sufferers of concussions and brain injuries amid all the national hoohah about the NFL.
- The ImPACT test, at which, by the way, I scored higher than some other famous concussion writer.
- A peek behind the smock, in kids’ visits with the specialists.
- Part II, the Zicarellis’ harrowing tale.
- New approaches, which introduced the term “vestibular” concussion therapy to the outside world.
- A last-minute story, live, from Heinz Field about the NFL’s black Sunday that caused head-hit changes in league policy.
- Update on the concussed kids I followed in this series – notice how some of them didn’t recover, further evidence, especially in humans before the brain matures around age 25, that it is very individualized. And there is no such thing as a “mild” concussion.
- Part III, the Certified Athletic Trainers’ role on the sidelines with concussions. And nurses, too. Plus, return-to-play clearance.
- A second-day mainbar about all the high-school and middle-school concussed students staying home and trying to keep up their coursework.
- Frighteningly, NFL dads who aren’t too worried about their kids getting concussions (LaVar Arrington’s statements require careful attention).
- End-of-season updates on teams/kids I followed.
- Part IV, the Pittsburgh mystery of Preston Plevretes and how he became officially proclaimed as the poster boy for the debilitating if not fatal Second Impact Syndrome. (Plevretes is from New Jersey, but the only times the Times covered him was when he testified in New York and when his LaSalle lawsuit was settled.)
- Seven steps to change from expert Dr. Julian Bailes.
Mike Webster’s lawsuit against the NFL disability play and his family’s ordeal weren’t chronicled in the Times like it was in the Post-Gazette in 2005:
- Part I, the family’s ordeal.
- They no longer blamed the Steelers.
- Part II, the NFL and the Disability Plan, heretofore never studied so in depth.
- A remarkable sidebar about the Disability Plan, where former Raider Curt Marsh had to see a doctor every January to ensure that his amputated leg hadn’t grown back.
- Here was likely one of the most important stories I ever wrote, and no one noticed back in 2005 – a half-decade before national attention was paid to it. This study, by a former Steelers graduate-assistant athletic trainer (see below), was showing in the early 2000s that there was a problem. . . one few noticed and one the NFL didn’t hold under a microscope.
And, again in 2005 and early 2006, when Dr. Bennett Omalu first discovered CTE in the autopsy of Terry Long, I was among other Post-Gazette reporters who first wrote of Long’s demise.
Please don’t misunderstand: Schwarz deserves awards, plaudits and praise. Chris Nowinski and the Boston-based Sports Legacy Institute have worked with Schwarz to tell compelling story after story about CTE, concussions and the byproduct afflictions that ended in the suicide of Andre Waters and the retirement of Ted Johnson.
The NFL didn’t listen before, to the Post-Gazette or any other news organization that focused earlier on brain injuries and concussions in football or other sports.
So the power of the Gray Lady, the New York Times, and the political and institutional and (in the words of UPMC’s Dr. Joseph Maroon) “Socratic” coverage by Schwarz was indeed important in helping to prompt a reaction from the NFL and potentially the other major sports.
But let’s not go overboard.
It was the Lystedt case that began laws last adopted by almost a dozen states.
It was the Plevretes suit that was followed days later by sweeping NCAA changes in concussion policies.
It was horrific and sad stories about players that got the ball rolling, even with the NFL and its John Mackeys, its Mike Websters, its retirees who have been displaying dementia and Alzheimer’s and more brain injuries for more than a decade. Latrobe’s Kevin Guskiewicz and his University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Research Center, with its medical director Dr. Julian Bailes of West Virginia U., long ago presented seminal (and, at first, NFL-discounted) findings that were just as, if not more, important as the CTE work nowadays. They discovered problems in living, emotionally and cognitively troubled retirees.
In the end, it’s far less a credit to any newspaper than a shame on society that research and medical experts and walking-vegetable ex-players alone weren’t enough to immediately foster change.
Posted on March 30, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Go ahead, make some noise for Major League Baseball. On Tuesday, it made a change that was revolutionary by its stodgy, old-fashioned standard.
The new 7-day disabled list for concussions only.
Insert applause and Thunderstix here.
But they could’ve provided an even bigger ovation, made a larger national media splash, with one simple Florida news conference:
Here’s Justin Morneau and Jason Bay to tell you about how dangerous and difficult concussions in baseball can be.
True, Bay ultimately would’ve needed to cancel the appearance because of a rib-cage strain — yes, he might continue his DL-streak of regular-season games missed.
Still and all, Tuesday could have been a poster-boy moment for baseball, for all of North America, about concussions in major sports today.
Heck, the only U.S. athlete’s brain that Canada worries about more than Morneau’s is Sidney Crosby‘s.
“The one thing you don’t want to do is put someone in position the day after or two days later all of a sudden by saying, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ “ the Twins’ MVP first baseman told The Associated Press. “The worst thing you can do with a concussion is rush back to play.”
He should know. He went from All-Star to all-gone, missing half the season and all the playoffs because of his nasty concussion. The new 7-day window is vital, almost as much as the mandatory baseline testing — a UPMC staple with the ImPACT test that also measures the extent of the concussed brain and the recovery. And get this: MLB will examine and monitor umps, too.
To be fair, MLB is following suit the enhanced policies adopted by the NHL and NFL, but both of those games still have head-hit policies and more stringent injured-player control to worry about further. And baseball, remember, is the game that took years to act on performance-enhancing drugs, right Barry Lamar Bonds?
So this step in the right direction needed more than dual news releases by MLB and the Players Association.
It needed a player, a voice, a face to go with it.
No better way to emphasize the point than with sinew and breath.
“It gives us time,” Morneau continued about the new policy. “We don’t have to rush to make decisions. It also makes anyone feel they don’t have to rush to get back.
“I’m glad we’re finally getting to that point where it’s err on the safe side rather than err on the side of ‘let’s see how it goes and if something happens, something happens.’ It is getting better.”
The incidence of concussions continues to rise, though that’s primarily due to reporting: More athletes are being more honest.
But it seems, with empirical 2010-11 data still out and the science still evolving, that more and more star professional athletes are taking longer to recover. Seven days? Morneau, Bay and Crosby missed more than 10 months combined. . . and counting. And Crosby — cleared today, March 30, to return to Penguins practice but not contact — could continue sitting out until October.
Concussions are individualized injuries, different levels and different symptoms and, most of all, different recoveries for different people. It is a difficult and frustrating ailment.
As Bay the ex-Pirate in the Mets outfield, told USA Today earlier this spring: “When you’re not doing anything else, thinking about your concussion occupies all your time. You can watch TV if you can tolerate it, and early on I couldn’t. … Or [you can] read a book with the iPad or use the computer or nothing. … That was the toughest part: Do nothing, but do something to keep your mind off it. Well, what is that?”
So they try to sleep. Sometimes, for months at a time.
MLB didn’t sleep on this one. It made a change. Not publicly enough, but a change nevertheless. Maybe the NBA should get involved, and the Big Four could condense their policies, their medical brainpower and their experts, and together announce sweeping policies. Then maybe Crosby and Morneau would sit at a podium together.
Posted on March 29, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Swollen head, of the chemically induced variety. Back acne. Testicle size.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your image of the Home Run King now and possibly forever.
Good thing for Barry Lamar Bonds that CourtTV went the way of the DVD player, lest Nos. 73 and 762 would get permanently replaced in Baseball America’s memory by some ugly, searing, anatomical moment far more naked but just as enduring as O.J. Simpson‘s glove in live trial technicolor.
Bonds was a PR nightmare even as a young Pirate, causing spring-training screamfests by manager Jim Leyland or postseason hackles by questioning not his own lack of productivity but that of a teammate who at least had an excuse — a bad back that eventually would cause Jeff King‘s premature retirement.
But once Bonds became a Giant. . . oh, guess he did take that literally and figuratively, huh?
March 28′s day in court was a doozy. As would be any day when your “paramour” — the woman you bought a house, took on the road for “girlfriend trips” vs. “wife trips” and didn’t marry over nine years and, what, two spouses — testified about your growing/shrinking body parts. Later today, March 29, the Brothers Giambi and onetime Pirates outfielder Armando Rios, part of one of ex-GM David Littlefield‘s most forgettable trades (Ryan Vogelsong is the other part), are scheduled to testify.
Much the same as his body, the damage is done to Bonds. A sullen disposition coupled with an already sullied reputation has sunken him into a primordial mud. Now that the government is making a federal case of it, charging him with perjury over his early testimony that he didn’t use steroids (much the same way once-Olympic darling Marion Jones was sent walking, not running, to jail), Bonds may well get himself in, uh, the Clear. Flaxseed oil humor never gets old, does it? Still, his image and his Home Run Kingship will never be bereft of taint.
He will be Big-Head, Back-Acne Barry to much, if not all, of the public. As columnist Mark Purdy opined in the San Jose Mercury-News this March 29 morning: “At a certain level, he must wonder whether his decision was worth the toxic and sad debris it has left behind. ”
Now I’m a guy who’d accept the challenge of repairing Charlie Sheen‘s image — it’s the competitive spirit, if not the #tigerblood, in me. So here’s the plan for trying to rid some of those Barry blemishes, to the reputation, back and record, and perhaps even allow Bonds to return to the baseball he claims to cherish and represent:
1. Admit guilt. Even if he gets found not guilty in this court, what with his Dream Team trying to impugn the character and agendas of ex-girlfriend Kimberly Bell and others testifying against Bonds, he must stand in front of what little is left of a caring nation and confess at minimum that he behaved badly. The girlfriend (remember him posing with his kids?), the house together, the dirty laundry, the bad actions around the game, those are all fodder for begging for forgiveness. “I made some mistakes, I know I haven’t served the game as well as I had hoped, I wanted to be as revered as my godfather. . . ,” that would help, even if he cannot admit to the needle and cream being BALCO products rather than flaxseed and arthritic medications.
2. Take a role in baseball. Mark McGwire, who did something of Rule No. 1 before becoming the Cardinals’ hitting coach, was pretty much a non-factor in the brand and controversy areas last season, his first back. He may never get into Cooperstown, and Bonds’ time for that snub is coming quickly. But at least McGwire has removed himself from the black cloud of seclusion over his failure to admit to the needle prick. Ergo. . . Bonds, who just doesn’t have that coaching personality though he was one of the game’s greatest all-time hitters pre-BALCO, should find another avenue in baseball. Buy a piece of the Giants? Maybe. How about: Lead the charge to erect a Willie Mays statue in New York, where his godfather’s Giants career all started. Or asking the Commissioner, Bud Selig, if you could serve on a drug-advisory board so the game doesn’t make the same mistakes again (no public act of penance or guilt necessary, but he just can’t come off as if he’s doing them a huge favor). Or merely come out and publicly refuse to allow a statue of himself outside AT&T Park, because most important you don’t parents feeling compelled to explain the blemishes as well as the baseball-bashing, or the kids feeling icky either, every time they enter the ballyard.
3. Get close to Henry Aaron. Take notes. Learn dignity from him, because the man has exuded it for a half-century and more. Even if it’s by assimilation or association, that could only benefit Bonds.
Although, as I wrote years ago, he probably should’ve retired the moment he statistically pulled even with him.
Posted on March 28, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Long before he goes Hollywood this week, Shaka Smart got his start at California.
P-A, that is.
Yes, the first gig for the coach escorting Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four stage and Houston’s Reliant Stadium this weekend all began his coaching sojourn as a Vulcans assistant with Division II California U, Pa.
Kind of escaped the media’s notice, huh?
Sure, the Pittsburgh media will be all over Moon’s John Calipari, a native, a guy who worked from ballboy to Five-Star counselor to Pitt recruiter to head coach used to this Final Four spotlight.
But the little guy, who came from Washington County coaching roots, who directed his VCU Rams into the NCAA tournament as likely the 68th and last invite into the field, deserves more local pub.
Posted on March 27, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Matt Cooke remains “on leave.”
Where oh where could the Penguins’ bad-boy be?
Were he to seek my counsel — operators are still waiting, Matty — the advice would be simple for this suspension time away: Find true contrition and change. In a serious way.
His isn’t an anger-management issue, although it’s apparent he has angered management with the Penguins. Rather, his is an on-ice control issue. He needs to learn to channel his dirtiness, to use the rest of the puck planet’s depiction. He needs to understand that the dangerous hits, the head-centric thuds, the raised elbows all need to go … or he will. Sure, he would get One Last Chance with another NHL team. But he has carved such a good place with the Penguins that he shouldn’t want to leave.
The Penguins, outspoken from normally reserved co-owner Mario Lemieux on down, have tried to take the lead in cleaning up the NHL’s blemishes: eliminating head hits and thuggery, fining clubs as well as the clubbers. They have chosen here to give Cooke, after his fourth league suspension but the longest and most publicly ugly (at 14 to 17 games, depending on first-round playoff length), One More Chance. They have decided to see if this cat can change his wayward stripes.
His employers have decided to speak in one voice, and they’ve even acknowledged that publicly in a wise move. So don’t expect to hear from Lemieux on a personnel matter — he reserves his words for a more league-wide pressing issues. Nevertheless, Ray Shero has been precise for all: This is it.
“The suspension is warranted because that’s exactly the kind of hit we’re trying to get out of the game,” the Penguins’ general manager said in his March 21 statement, speaking for the organization. “Head shots have no place in hockey. We’ve told Matt in no uncertain terms that this kind of action on the ice is unacceptable and cannot happen. Head shots must be dealt with severely, and the Pittsburgh Penguins support the NHL in sending this very strong message.”
No uncertain teams. No place in hockey. Cannot happen. Very strong message.
“I’d prefer to be part of the solution to rehabbing him as a player versus making a decision to toss him overboard to be somebody else’s problem and say we did our part,” Shero continued in the March 27 Post-Gazette.
The language is crystal. Even more than the $200,000-plus in his family’s future college educations he must forfeit amid this suspension, the Penguins’ no-uncertain terms should serve as a clarion call to Matt Cooke that he needs help.
It’s high-sticking time to seek it. Maybe change means spending weeks with Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy or some other hockey wise man possessed of Lady Byngs on his mantel or calmness in his DNA (shame three-time winner and ex-Penguin Ron Francis is employed elsewhere, with Carolina). Maybe change means professional counsel; I don’t believe there’s a Betty Ford Clinic for Reckless Hockey Players, but there are an array of possibilities out there ranging from aromatherapy to hypnosis to professional guidance to Zen breathing techniques. Maybe change means a live-TV public admission of penitence, standing up before the masses and looking into the camera’s eye and accepting ownership of a checkered checking past. (Wear your bridge for all interviews from now on, too; the missing teeth aren’t a positive message, as the Flyers’ Bobby Clarke evidenced on his full-smiling way to senior VP.)
For the purposes of both the intertwined perception and reality, let alone his personal well-being, Cooke needs to return to the Penguins and NHL with such a plan. He must seek a solution to the bad-boy behavior that detracts from his otherwise plus-side hockey abilities. He must exude a new-leaf personal policy. He must exhibit contrition and change.
It’s for his own good. But it also would help his team, his GM, his co-owner, his sport.
It’s a rather important next month of his life.