Friday, September 24, 2010

Concussions continued some more

Two bills head through the US House of Representatives committees dealing with the problem of sports and concussions.  One calls for more study, the other actually would put into place requirements for all public school districts:
to develop and put in place their own plans for sports concussion management, would explicitly require that any athlete suspected of concussion must be removed from play until cleared by an appropriate health-care professional, and calls for special scholastic services for athletes in recovery.
This effort makes more sense than just calling for an elite panel to make recommendations (the first bill) since we already have heaps of recommendations out there: better mouthpieces, better helmets, existing state laws (Washington state is apparently the role model), etc.  But, as Gregg Easterbrook, ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback and public policy writer, argued, we need to change the incentives.  The NFL, despite its own new policies, continues to make the same old mistakes:

What penalty did Andy Reid suffer for sending Bradley back into the game? None. Nor did the Eagles organization pay any price for skirting commissioner Roger Goodell's 2009 order that players with concussion symptoms sit down until evaluated by an independent neurologist. Eagles spokesperson Derek Boyko told me that because Bradley merely came out of the game, rather than being "removed," the policy did not apply.*
 Coaches, as Easterbrook, need to be the ones who put the brakes on, as players who just got a big hit to the head are in no position to judge.  Plus, as he rightly notes, for sports for kids under 18 (and perhaps even under 21), the coach is supposed to be responsible.  But they need to win to keep their jobs.  So, how do we create incentives for coaches to do the right thing and sit players who could be concussed?  Perhaps Andy Reid should have to play $100k for returning Bradley to the field?  Is that not enough?  Should we put people on the field akin to Bill Simmons' VP of Common Sense to throw a purple flag onto the field to stop the action if a player is on the field who should not be?  As Easterbrook discusses, that would not be enough as much of the (brain) damage is done during practices.  He goes on with more info about concussions, with some terrific critiques of the NFL's own network and other broadcasters, and what can be done in his column for this week, although he still leaves unanswered the incentives problem.

And this is not just a football problem--girls basketball produces the second highest number of concussions apparently.  I would never have guessed that.  Soccer, yes.  Basketball?

For those scoring at home, this is when government intervention is necessary--when market competition produces behavior that is suboptimal.  

Bradley was the player I mentioned in a recent post--that he was a guy who clearly had a serious head injury but got back into the game, if only briefly, afterward.

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