Sports Safety: Who’s to Blame?

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By Arielle Gurin

The danger of not knowing when a sports injury is serious was discussed by a panel on Feb. 27 at the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in Knight Hall.

The panelists provided their unique perspective on the matter of sports safety, yet all agreed that from childhood to professional levels, athletes often do not know the best approach to take.

Photo by Atara Berstein

Photo by Atara Berstein

Who does know what is best for athletes when it comes to sports safety? Who should make the final decision on whether or not to pull a player? Should the decision come from a parent or a coach?

On the professional level, it is the team physician’s job to make that call, said panelist Dr. Stephen Haas, a retired physician for Michael Jordan. “You don’t take the job as the team physician unless you have the final word,” said Haas.

However, many teams below the professional level do not have doctors on the sidelines, which can result in serious health problems.

Concussions might not show up until 24 to 72 hours after the initial injury, explained panelist Sean Sansiveri, staff council for the NFL Players Association. An astonishing 80 percent of sports related concussions go unrecognized because no one at the game knows how to detect such an injury.

Being an educated parent is a huge component in an athlete’s safety, said panelist Rick “Doc” Walker, a sports broadcaster and retired Washington Redskins player. “Make sure you look at who’s coaching your kid. Make sure the team isn’t scrimmaging for two hours at a time and is reducing helmet contact.”

As a parent you must take responsibility for ensuring your child’s safety, because as much as a coach might appreciate and care about his or her athlete, no one loves a child the way a parent does, Walker said.

Sports news columnist, David Steele, asked the panel what they thought of the practice of athletes not telling doctors or coaches that they are hurt out of fear of losing their starting spot, or worse, their career.

Many professional athletes have guaranteed contracts whether they play or not, so this isn’t an issue, said Walker.

“It’s ok to be hurt, your body is real,” said Monica McNutt, a former Georgetown basketball superstar and current graduate student at this university. “Your body will be with you for the rest of your life.”

Senior David Schwartz, a kinesiology major, attended the event because he will begin graduate school for physical therapy next year and was intrigued by the diverse panel of speakers.

“The conversation was really great,” said Schwartz, who plans to go into sports medicine. “They talked a lot about contemporary issues in football which is really interesting to me.”

Schwartz’s favorite speaker was Haas. “He has the coolest stories,” Schwartz said. “He provided information on what it’s like to work in the sports world and work with professional athletes.”

The audience included students, local residents, sports writers, and talkative former offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins, Ray Schoenke.

Although Schoenke was not on the panel, he offered a lot of information to the rest of the audience about being educated about the game and sports related injuries to ensure an athlete’s safety.

Scott Hallenbeck, the executive director of USA Football and Mark Hyman, a professor at George Washington University were also panelists at the event.

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