Ahead of the Game: Chad Greenway, panelists discuss brain injuries at Pentagon
Public forum aimed at providing information about sports concussions, with Chad Greenway as main speaker. Presented by Argus Leader Media and Sanford Health.
Chad Greenway admits to thoughts in the back of his head about the ramifications of being an NFL player for 11 years. He’d see the former Vikings amble through, now hobbled in part because of the time they spent in the game.
He wants to know more now, which put him in good company at the Sanford Pentagon on Sunday for “Ahead of the Game: How Concussion Studies Can Make Sports Safer”, an event set up by Argus Leader Media and Sanford Health to give the curious an opportunity to ask questions and see the progress that has been made in diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries as they apply to young athletes.
“I think we need to hear more from both sides of the argument,” Greenway said while participating in a panel discussion led by the Argus Leader’s Stu Whitney that included Augustana football coach Jerry Olszewski, Storm coach and Premier Football Academy director Kurtiss Riggs, Director of Research and Development Thayne Munce at Sanford Sports Science Institute and Sanford Health neuropsychologist Kate Higgins.
“Every case is different,” Greenway continued. “Every amount of impact is different – we need to understand that and find out how that affects us. Right now we’re getting a lot of information about the side where any contact sport is bad, is negative, is going to give you dementia, is going to give you all these issues down the road.”
While acknowledging the risk is greater – particularly when you play 11 years as a professional – is it an unreasonable risk? How have improvements in equipment and better coaching of technique changed how someone like Greenway is going to feel about his time in the game 20 or 30 years from now?
“I forget things,” Greenway said. “But I have four kids and a million things going on. It’s not from playing football. You look at the technology and the equipment that kids use compared to the stuff I used, it’s so much better than it was in the 60s, 70s and 80s for the guys they’re studying – now, it’s just different. The equipment is just so much better.”
Tina Yopp was one of the parents making an afternoon of talking with representatives from Sanford as well as youth football, hockey and soccer organizations, in addition to representatives from Riddell, a football helmet company.
Her son Tyler will be participating in contact football next year for the first time, though he’s involved in sports year-round.
“I want to know more about it because he’s going to try tackle football next year,” Yopp said. “We just talked to the people who are here with the helmets. It’s pretty amazing the advances they’ve made.”
Yopp admitted to concern about sending Tyler into football given the prevailing conversations about concussions in the sport. That was part of the reason she took the time to be there.
“I’ve learned they’re monitoring it closely to make it safe,” Yopp said. “I know when he’s playing they’re going to be doing everything they can to protect the kids.”
It remains a frontier in the eyes of those who spend a lot of time studying brain injuries. The numbers have been refined, as have the causes and treatment of concussions in youth sports. There are also questions that so far do not have answers.
“The research has come a long ways in the last 15 years,” Munce told the crowd. “We know a lot more than we did. And we still have a long way to go. We don’t have all the answers. The most frustrating thing for me right now is that parents are trying to make decisions on a lot of noise they’re hearing. Some of it is good and some of it is bad, but they’re hearing a lot of chatter about brain injuries and concussions.”
Trying to make sense of it will continue to be a challenge, alleviated in part by continued research and events like the one on Saturday afternoon at the Pentagon.
“Right now we have to use the best available information that we have,” Munce said. “And we also have to use common sense… We have to weigh the information available to us to make the best judgment and to make the best decision. It’s what we’re trying to do that with our research.”