Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

NASCAR laps NFL in concussion discussion

NASCAR 1, NFL 0.

That's my scorecard — and should be yours, too — based on Internet chatter and developments involving protecting the greatest assets in sports:

The athletes.

The NFL seems back in denial after some preposterous statements during the owners' meetings, where several prominent faces continued to deflect the obvious link between a violent game and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay went Crazy Town, comparing the side effects of playing professional football to the possibility of a bad reaction after taking an aspirin.

Excuse me, I have a headache from typing those words.

On the flip side, NASCAR — led by signature stars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson — is all about making this a proactive conversation. Earnhardt Jr. recently tweeted that he would donate his brain to science.

Then he elaborated this past week.

"Hopefully, they don't have to look at my brain whenever I pass away because they have learned enough science to study the brains of living adults," he said.

"Hopefully, the science has advanced enough to where they no longer need to be poking around inside my brain."

Earnhardt went on to say that he was inspired by former U.S. National Team soccer player Brandi Chastain and several former Oakland Raiders who will donate their brains in honor of their late teammate, Ken Stabler.

Stabler, a retired and once feisty quarterback in NFL lore, died last summer. Doctors discovered he had Stage 3 CTE, a neurological disease linked to head collisions in football and other contact sports, causing debilitating and degenerative memory and mood problems.

"I will be donating — or pledging my brain, is what they like to say — to the Concussion Legacy Foundation," Earnhardt Jr. said. "They are in partnership with Boston University where the brain bank is. I was a donor already for many years, as my driver's license would attest. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do for me. Anything that I can do to help others."

And like any good teammate, Johnson stepped in to prove he has Junior's back. Johnson, who drives with Earnhardt for Hendrick Motorsports, alluded a situation involving IndyCar driver Will Power, who missed the season opening race in St. Petersburg last month after crashing in practice and dealing with nausea.

Further tests at the University of Miami Hospital's Concussion Program ruled out a concussion but concluded that Power probably did have an inner-ear infection.

"Whatever they have in Miami needs to be at every racetrack to make a better decision — whatever that stuff is," Johnson told reporters from USA Today and NBCSports.com. "That's the bottom line. You're dealing with someone's career — someone's life.

"The bottom line there is concern for the athlete, for the driver. I think it all stems from a good place. Unfortunately, mistakes are made. We're trying with the baseline concussion tests we now take. That's hopefully a tool to help make a better decision."

It's simple really: Err on the side of caution. Make informed decisions. Protect your stars.

It's a little more complicated than taking two aspirin and hoping the throbbing pain in your head goes away.

— Orlando Sentinel (TNS)

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