Archive for May, 2011
Posted on May 30, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
As the late Phil Musick used to write, some things I think I think:
* The next huge breakthrough in concussions will come from the Pentagon, San Diego or Pittsburgh. Likely, in that order.
Well, the Pentagon will receive the credit, though may not earn it. The most scrutiny around concussions nowadays involves U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the consequence of terrorism and IEDs and the incidence of what is considered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but in many cases may well prove to be Post-Concussion Syndrome. Sure, it seems that some of the research may have flaws. Still, millions of dollars and tons of hours are being invested into this study — on both sides of the border. And, on this Memorial Day, it is high time to acknowledge that soldiers and heroes must represent the first people in line for a a symptom-free life, if not a cure.
The military provides a large subset of people, all around the same age and facing the same conditions. It’s a fantastic study group, medically speaking. And the injuries are sudden and apparent, not a lingering ailment or a malady kept quiet by a machismo athlete. Concussion experts who have consulted with the military heard reports that anywhere from nearly 50 percent to 95 percent of all military injuries the past few years have been the non-penetrating kind — i.e., Traumatic Brain Injuries.
As for the University of California-San Diego, it received a $99,700 grant from NFL Charities to assist with its project working to develop “a neuro-imaging technique using Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) for detecting neuronal injuries not visible using conventional CT or MRI in football players with mild traumatic brain injury.” That’s a lot of gobbledy-gook to describe an X-Ray-on-Steroids that in studies so far found a 90-percent success rate in seeing concussions compared to the 10-percent rate for MRI or CT scans. But it sounds much the same research being tackled by some folks in the Pittsburgh medical community — they asked me almost a year ago to keep it quiet; wonder if they’re any closer to fruition?
The Pittsburgh project: To complete a spectral device that looks something like binoculars but can peer through a human’s eyes and see an image of the brain that will tell doctors precisely where a person is concussed. Such a breakthrough will aid detection significantly, but it also may prove to prevent or at least lessen symptoms with immediate diagnosis and perhaps medication.
It’s still such an evolving field.
* This is something I know, not think: UPMC will announce in the next six weeks or so an official change in the organizational flow chart at the top of its internationally acclaimed Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
Mark Lovell is leaving to concentrate full-time on the concussion tool he helped to discover, the Immediate Post-concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing (ImPACT). He will have an office within walking distance of the Sports Medicine headquarters on the South Side, but his focus will be on growing the burgeoning test already standard in the NFL, NHL, Indy Racing League and more than half of Pennsylvania’s high schools plus thousands more across America.
Lovell’s departure puts the Concussion Program squarely on the shoulders of his longtime assistant director and ImPACT co-founder Michael “Micky” Collins.
True, Collins already carried a bulk of the patient workload and continued to toil as an eloquent spokesman about, and mover-shaker for, concussion detection and management. This means little change there.
You probably noticed that of late he has been outed as a doctor to the concussed stars, the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and the Minnesota Twins’ Justin Morneau. Let me tell you, he has seen plenty more stars than that. . . and more of your kids, ages 6-22, which, to me, is far more important though unfortunately almost invisible by contrast.
The program will proceed without a hitch — Lovell and Collins have a covy of able associates there, even if this constitutes the first time they’ll work apart in more than the decade since the program was launched in 2000. It will be interesting to see, with the addition of Dr. Anthony Kontos in December along with UPMC Sports Medicine’s own $100,000 grant from NFL Charities, what comes next from these folks.
* Funny how Sports Illustrated and Tom Verducci publish a story that hits America’s mailboxes last Thursday concerning troubled Mets owner Fred Wilpon, and that very same day the baseball club announces that David Einhorn is spending $200 million to buy 49 percent of the franchise. He could eventually buy out Wilpon.
Either that’s serendipitous timing or great PR, countering the SI story . . . though Wilpon’s New Yorker comments were considered more incendiary — so much so that he apologized to Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes.
* With Memorial Day constituting a quarter-pole of sorts in the Major League Baseball season, check this aht: The Arizona Diamondbacks and Cleveland Indians are in first place, and the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates are within striking distance at a few games below .500.
Small markets, rejoice?
Not yet. Wait until July 4th, the next important pole.
* Zach Duke, for you Pirates faithful, sits in first place after April 10 for the first time in his seven-year MLB career. He came off the DL to throw seven shutout innings and homer in his D-backs debut. That makes him only the second pitcher in MLB history to have such an inaugural game for a team, according to the statistical mavens at the Elias Sports Bureau who keep such arcane minutiae.
* Concussion experts need to get along. There exists too much competition — the Boston and West Virginia University research centers find themselves competing for the brain tissue of recently deceased athletes — and too much back-biting, with some initially pooh-poohing the research of others or playing up their own findings. Both the NFL with financial support, at numbers 10 times what it gave in the aforementioned grants, and the New York Times with considerable coverage have shown a subjective leaning toward the Boston group, accomplished mouthpiece Chris Nowinski and the Sports Legacy Institute.
If only the NFL had listened a decade ago to the research at the University of North Carolina led by Kevin Guskiewicz, a Latrobe native and former Steelers graduate-student trainer, and WVU’s Julian Bailes. They found way back then, at the turn of this century, the same suicidal, emotional, memory and later-in-life problems in retired NFL players that suddenly gained notice and alarm about 18 months ago. So many universities and people are doing fine work in this, as stated above, ever-evolving field.
* Uber-agent Leigh Steinberg mentions Guskiewicz, Bailes and Lovell in blogging about how he spent years trying to shake awake the NFL community about concussions.
* A case of saying too much? Why, not Rex Ryan. . . . In his new book, the Jets coach talks about how he used a meeting with NFL Commish Roger Goodell to help him earn the respect of newly acquired Santonio Holmes in April 2010. Hey, Tone can read. This tell-too-much book may affect that relationship, among others.
* Tweeting and blogging by such Steelers as Rashard Mendenhall and James Harrison isn’t news. It’s just that, due to the lockout, club officials can’t do anything about it. Holmes typed about, and — according to a positive test — smoked, weed to work his way out of Pittsburgh barely two years ago. That should’ve caused pause among Steelers fingers, right?
* In sitting down to chat with great Pittsburgh Press sports and news writer/columnist Roy McHugh, it makes you realize how so man of Western Pennsylvania’s great writers are gone: Myron Cope, Bruce Keidan, Musick. McHugh is still sharp and wonderful. In recent years, he has turned his prodigious talent to editing: He helped Art Rooney Jr., Cope and others with books. I sat at the knee of McHugh last week and learned sooooooo much. Wish I had spent, oh, the past 25 years picking not only his cranium, but that of Cope, Keidan and Musick — with each of whom I spent hours on end, always accompanied by the proviso: some day, let’s sit down and talk about writing. We should make better use of our resources, our treasures.
Posted on May 27, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Rick Welts came out two weeks ago Sunday.
The NBA plays on. Professional sports, sexual orientation, testosterone, machismo, homophobia and the roundball planet tarry forward. Life as we know it continues unabated. It was as if it barely made a blip on even the short-attention-span radar.
So that’s a good thing, right?
In an America consumed by perception, or at least prepared to consume itself over perception, nothing has changed.
Isn’t that a bad thing, too?
After all, the objective in going so public for Welts, 58 — the Phoenix Suns CEO and a well-respected front-office man from the Los Angeles Dodgers, NBA and more — was to “engender conversation about the topic. . . . The other was, if there was a chance to do some good for people, young people, who are struggling with their own issues and wondering whether or not they could pursue their passions and have a chance to have a successful career, whether that was team sports or something else.”
Kobe Bryant‘s stated intention, amid his own verbal homophobic slur and post-$100,000 fine, to eradicate the use of that word he invoked derogatorily at an official: Hasn’t worked. Bulls forward Yoakim Noah used it just this week toward a fan at an NBA Eastern Conference final game. (Let’s remember, too, as I pointed out here six weeks ago, the convoluted message the NBA sent by fining soon-to-be-retired Lakers coach Phil Jackson 50 percent more than Bryant’s $100,000 when Jackson used the NBA slur “lockout.”)
John Amaechi, the ex-Penn Stater who was the first major U.S. pro athlete to public say he was guy, admitted in the same New York Times where Welts eloquently came out that he was surprised by the surprise over Bryant.
Look who’s surprised now: Nobody. There is no discussion over the first U.S. pro-sports official to publicly announce he is gay. There was no national discussion after, at most, one week. Only one athlete publicly followed Welts’ suit, former Villanova player Will Sheridan.
That doesn’t mean acceptance reigns. That’s a perception akin to the postulate that racial or religious discrimination no longer exists in this country. In other words, it’s either better hidden in some places or eroding gradually all over.
Perhaps the highlight of the discourse came from none other than loquacious Charles Barkley, who told Washington Post columnist Mike Wise on a Beltway radio broadcast: “First of all, every player has played with gay guys. It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say, ‘Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.’ First of all, quit telling me what I think. I’d rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can’t play.
“Any professional athlete who gets on TV or radio and says he never played with a gay guy is a stone-freakin’ idiot. I would even say the same thing in college. Every college player, every pro player in any sport. has probably played with a gay person.
“First of all, society discriminates against gay people,” Barkley continued. “They always try to make it like jocks discriminate against gay people. I’ve been a big proponent of gay marriage for a long time, because, as a black person, I can’t be in for any form of discrimination at all.”
If nothing else, feel for Welts. He endured the death of one partner from AIDs, the break-up of another who couldn’t live under a shroud of secrecy, the passing of his own mother who supported him. If he had foretold this reaction, or lack thereof, perhaps he would’ve gone public sooner.
Perhaps the PR lesson here is this: Homophobia moves America’s needle in misdeeds, words and pictures — both Bryant and Noah committed the modern-day sin of getting caught on camera. Sports America apparently doesn’t care much about the closed-door personal life of an athlete. . . or CEO. At least, not until the next few news cycles.
Posted on May 26, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Details coming soon. Promise.
Posted on May 25, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Look who’s acquitting himself admirably now.
Though he typed it May 1 on his website — or maybe Greg Anderson did that for him — Barry Lamar Bonds on BarryBonds.com announced something the media just discovered Wednesday: “My Family Foundation, the Barry Bonds Family Foundation, will be donating $10,000 to the Bryan Stow Fund” and pledges to send Bryan’s children, Tabitha and Tyler, to college on his dime.
Indeed, Bonds’ philanthropy can be categorized so many ways. Except this one: It wasn’t court ordered.
This embodies the half-empty, half-full conundrum that is Bonds persona and image. He donated $10,000 to the family of the Giants fan beaten brutally at Dodger Stadium in April; Giants long-hair kid pitcher Tim Lincecum gave 2 1/2 times that amount. He was acquitted on three charges in federal court in the friendly San Francisco where he finished his statistic-draped career; he was found guilty of one. Historic home run king; tainted abuser of performance-enhancing drugs.
Conflicted manchild. (I once wrote of him, borrowing someone else’s clever word play, Bonds was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.)
Vowing to pay a decade in advance two college tuitions that conceivably could run some $500,000 is truly a heart-warming promise.
Knowing that he made $188,245,322 in his Pirates and Giants, 22-year career, that amount to him is truly the equivalent of pocket change – .002 of his lifetime salary, not counting card shows and endorsements. If that sounds like a critical statement, consider this: The last time Bonds made as little as $500,000 in any of his seasons was 1989. More than a generation ago.
Was he advised/counseled/ordered to pony up?
Surely, he has been touched by the Giants’ and the Bay Area’s response to the Stows. Perhaps he even realizes how his pledge will motivate others to follow, whether they revile or revere him. It’s the thought that counts as reality rather than perception, right?
Undoubtedly, one act of goodness won’t alter his flaxseed-stained image. It won’t soften his upcoming obstruction sentence. It won’t cause Hall of Fame voters to toss away the images of engorged body parts, dripping syringes and friends/lackeys closing both prison doors and their mouths for him.
Still and all, it’s a move he needed to make.
As a human being.
Posted on May 19, 2011 - by ChuckFinder
Deion Sanders‘ teen preening and Lloyd Carr‘s sideline stoicism are the talk of the newly announced College Football Hall of Fame induction class.
Pay little heed.
The focus, the attention, the roar should be all about the class member from Uniontown, Pa.
The consideration should be for the sport and social importance.
Sandy Stephens was one of the first in the growing line of African-American quarterbacks upon whose shoulders Doug Williams and Warren Moon and others proudly stand. He was the first African-American QB on the collegiate All-America first team, 1961. He was the first African-American full-time starting QB to lead his team to a national championship, not to mention the last University of Minnesota QB to lead the Golden Gophers to a Rose Bowl — two consecutive, in fact. He was the first African-American QB to finish among the leading Heisman Trophy vote-getters, coming in fourth the year the mythic Ernie Davis of Syracuse won. He was the first, true African-American collegiate QB star.
And what did he do after winning the national title?
He didn’t go to Disneyland.
He fled to Canada.
Willie Thrower, from the same football-rich Pittsburgh area as Stephens, from the steel town of New Kensington, Pa., shared quarterback time at Michigan State almost a decade before Stephens matrciulated to another Big Ten school — and don’t discount the importance of being among the trail blazers in such a vital conference.
Thrower shared time with fellow Pennsylvanian Tom Yewcic, father of an eventual Pitt quarterback by the same name, and helped to lead Michigan State to a national championship as well. He was fortunate enough to be signed by George Halas‘ Chicago Bears in 1953 and later that season get into an NFL game, thereby becoming the first African-American QB to take a snap in league history.
History didn’t even get to finish the drive: George Blanda, yet another Western Pennsylvanian from Youngwood, was sent back in once the Bears reached the San Francisco 5-yard line. Halas wanted Blanda to finish the drive Thrower started.
So you get an idea about the difficulty, the layers of mountain rock through which this trail was excavated.
In 2002, about 18 months after Stephens passed, Thrower was laid to rest in a funeral I attended — but nary an African-American NFL quarterback did. I wrote the list of NFL QBs who should’ve attended the service in honor of their forerunner, among them: Williams, Moon, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Duante Culpepper, Kordell Stewart. It still applies today, with Cam Newton being the first selection in last month’s NFL draft.
Eventually, consciousness and consciences were raised to such a degree in Western Pennsylvania, a statue was erected in Thrower’s honor at his old high school’s new stadium. Stop by Valley High sometime. Pay homage to history, to trail blazing. Same as we should today with Stephens, who is revered in Minnesota — where he was named to the university’s All-Century team and one of the state’s Top-30 all-time most important athletes — but gets less than his proper due everywhere else. Pay attention to American legacy, much less African American legacy.