Based on what we've collectively learned about concussions over the past few years, one thing I often hear in discussions about the future of sports is the need for a "culture change," where machismo in the face of injuries is put to the side in this one, specific instance.
You can't X-ray a brain like you can a broken bone and know the extent of the damage done by a hit to the head, which makes concussions more dangerous than your typical, run-of-the-mill sports injury.
Monty Williams, the head coach of the National Basketball Association's New Orleans Hornets, recently proved just how much work remains to be done in terms of the concussion-driven culture change in sports.
Williams voiced his frustration about the NBA's new concussion policy after Anthony Davis, the top overall pick in this past summer's NBA draft, was forced to miss time after accidentally being on the wrong end of an elbow from a teammate.
"When you're dealing with the brain, I guess what's happening in football has impacted everybody," Williams said before the Hornets' game against the Chicago Bulls last Saturday, according to ESPN.com. "He got touched up a little bit last night. That happens a lot in basketball. It's just that now they treat everybody like they have white gloves and pink drawers and it's getting old. It's just the way the league is now."
The coach said that he had "four or five concussions" back in his playing days, but didn't have to deal with the restrictions that players today must now deal with. Williams lobbied for players having more say about whether or not they can play.
"It's a man's game," Williams said. "They're treating these guys like they're 5 years old. He desperately wanted to come, but he couldn't make it."
The league didn't take too kindly to the coach's comments, fining him $25,000 on Tuesday for what he said.
Williams' apparent dream concussion policy could be dangerous for two reasons, however. For one, returning too quickly from a concussion, before the brain is fully healed, significantly increases the risk of a second concussion, which could end up being fatal (second-impact syndrome).
Allowing players to determine when they're ready to return without any outside medical advice, based on what we've learned about concussions, would be extraordinarily risky for any team. Many athletes will downplay the severity of injuries to get back out onto the playing field more quickly, and some may legitimately feel asymptomatic after a concussion but could still be healing internally.
Secondly, as Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen pointed out in a column this week, "People in the NBA have an opportunity to show leadership on behalf of players, coaches, and administrators in high school and younger grades."
"NBA coaches and players need to show an understanding that concussions are more serious than other injuries. They should make it clear that courage and masculinity are no longer relevant to players who are dealing with brain injuries. Young people are particularly susceptible to long-term damage from concussions, and NBA coaches and players need to do more to help create awareness among the players, youth coaches, and administrators who look up to them."
The NBA hasn't received anywhere near the negative publicity (or lawsuits) that the National Football League has endured since this concussion research began emerging. However, concussions do happen in basketball, as the Hornets' Davis proved this past week.
It's up to the NBA to determine what the league's role is in terms of sending the right message about concussions to youths.
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