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Terry Pluto: No longer just a 'ding on the head'
Cleveland Clinic leads new research on concussions as more younger athletes suffer head injuries

Morning Edition Host
Amanda Rabinowitz
Courtesy of Cleveland Clinic
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The Cleveland Clinic is leading new research on sports-related concussions to find ways to better protect athletes. It’s an issue that’s an increasing concern in youth sports – and not just football. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says that until recently, concussions were not taken seriously.

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Terry Pluto:  A ding in the head. That’s what they used to call it in football. He just got dinged. I mean, Bernie Kosar says he doesn’t know how many concussions he had.


Amanda Rabinowitz:  Bernie Kosar, former Browns quarterback.


TP: Browns quarterback. He was saying when he played for the Browns, he played with smelling salts in his belt of his pants. So that if he felt a little ding in the head, a little dizzy out there, he kind of brought himself back. Because you just played through it. Those types of stories, you know, kind of permeate down into the lower ranks of sports. “Hey, play through it! Play through it!”


AR:  I mean, mostly the emphasis has always been on football – the concern for concussions. But really with the discussions that’s taking place now, it’s not just football that’s the concern.


TP:  Well, not at all. Also, if you consider the fact that in youth sports, not only is your body not fully developed, your brain isn’t fully developed. Your skull isn’t fully development. So, for me, I always wondered, “Why aren’t younger kids, high school on down, wearing helmets when they play soccer?” Think about it – you’re heading the ball. This cannot be good for your head.


I’ve heard some people say, “Well, it would just add to the cost of the program. Let me see. We’ll pay for shoulder pads and we’ll pay for this and this…” That’s why they invented bake sales and car washes. They can just go out and raise money to buy helmets for the soccer team. This should be mandatory. Boys and girls – so many kids are playing soccer now at a young age.


It’s just like when many of us were kids, we didn’t ride our bikes while wearing a helmet. You didn’t wear a helmet on the bike, but now almost everybody does. Why? Because the one chance out of a thousand that you fall down and hit your head, you don’t want to end up in a wheelchair.


AR:  Congress is now getting involved. Taking up some legislation to kind of set some standards in schools. Start an awareness campaign. I mean, is awareness going to help reduce concussions in student athletes?


TP:  Well, it doesn’t hurt it. That’s for sure. Because I think what it’ll do is: that kid who had maybe two in the last two years, when he thought he was just feeling dizzy and got dinged in the head suddenly knows, “Maybe I better get this checked out.”


I remember this. I got hit in the head playing baseball. And I was actually glad we didn’t have a team doctor or anything at Benedictine, you know, a hundred years ago…  But the coach right away afterwards, actually he waited until the end of the game, but then he took me to the emergency room. He always said he got nervous when people got hit in the head. They ran some x-rays, you know the old thing. It showed nothing. So, I was fine. But I wondered how many coached would do that.


But I talked to a friend of mine who was a team doctor. He said some of the biggest pressure for kids to play with concussions came from the parents not the coaches. “Ah, get back out there,” because they don’t see it.


The other thing they need to do is check how the football helmets fit on these guys’ heads. Some of the concussions are caused because the helmets are not properly fitted. I don’t know all of the dynamics of that. But I know that that’s another factor there. The helmet could be too big. You know, that kind of stuff.


So, they have to look at those things. Those are a couple things there that aren’t going to cost a ton of money that just make some sense to do. And then, finally, I think parents, too, have to be very sympathetic when your son or daughter says, “Dad, I got hit in the head, and I don’t feel right.” That is a big warning sign.


AR: Well, and all you have to do is look at the Bernie Kosar’s of today who, you know, you can visibly tell on television that he’s slurring and kind of stuttering a little bit.


TP: Right, and the fact that, even until now, where Bernie sounded better this past year because he’s taking medication.


I think the thing is, if you take it seriously, and you start thinking about brain damage and memory loss, possible strokes… all kinds of things… anything that can come from this. Then, you look at it a lot… that this is a lot different than just a guy who sprained a thumb or turned an ankle.


AR: Terry, thanks for joining me.


TP: Thanks, Amanda.

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