Public Concussion Education Presented by NYS Athletic Trainers’ Association during Annual Conference

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In knowing the need for concussion awareness is glaringly present, the New York State Athletic Trainers’ Association (NYSATA) hosted a concussion education forum as a public service to the community at-large. The session was part of NYSATA’s annual Conference, which further included presentations about cutting-edge research on post-concussion management, living with post-concussive degenerative syndromes, and preparing for sudden cardiac emergencies.

Head Games Concussion Awareness Panel

Studies are now showing that athletic trainers are dramatically better at recognizing and assessing concussions... meaning if they are present, fewer athletes are playing through an undiagnosed brain injury.

On Friday, May 31st, the NYS Athletic Trainers’ Association, along with the Jamestown Community College (JCC) College Program Committee, provided a complimentary public concussion awareness forum. Included was a screening of the eye-opening, brain-injury-in-sport-based documentary, Head Games, immediately followed by a panel discussion with various experts and a family with personal experience in the area of sports concussions. Roughly 100 people attended the session, including local coaches, school nurses, physicians, student-athletes, and parents, along with many athletic trainers (ATs) who came in early for the conference.

Christopher Nowinski, former All-Ivy football player and concussion activist who authored the book that inspired the film, introduced the movie. As a former student-athlete diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome, Nowinski knows firsthand the importance of understanding how devastating concussions can be.

Educating the public about the seriousness of head and brain injuries in sports, specifically concussions, is one of the biggest hurdles in preventing life-altering complications from these precarious injuries. As concussions are not visible to the naked eye, nor do they typically show signs on medical imaging (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans), proper diagnosis relies on the honesty of athletes reporting symptoms, recognition of key signs, and, when possible, observation of how the injury occurred.

Based on his experience in promoting concussion awareness, Nowinski states, “The challenge with concussions is that people don’t know what they don’t know; it is hard to convince them to take the time to learn about how important this issue is. The media has done a great job covering the topic, and documentaries like Head Games make it accessible because stories can be the best way for information to stick. We’ve found that organizing Head Games screening parties can change hearts and minds. We have also compiled some of the best free online resources at – the key is forcing athletes and coaches to participate. It’s for their own good.”

As part of the conference offerings on Saturday, June 1st, another former athlete and concussion activist, Ray Ciancaglini presented his personal story. Mr. Ciancaglini, a former boxer, returned too soon from what he now knows was a concussion early in his career and deals daily with permanent and degenerative post-concussion brain diseases, Dementia Pugilistica and Parkinson's Syndrome. The former boxer has created The Second Impact, a non-profit website for concussion awareness, and does speaking engagements at no cost just to spread his message to whoever will listen. He does not want to see other athletes, especially those at the scholastic level, put one game ahead of their whole career or, more important, the quality of their lives. One of his favorite taglines is, “The game you sit out today could be the career you save tomorrow.”

In general, ATs are highly educated and experienced in managing concussions, especially when they are present on-site at an athletic event – from recognizing the signs and symptoms, to monitoring the recovery, to communicating between parents, school officials, and other medical professionals. ATs are also dedicated to staying current on concussion management to provide the best care possible and to serve as a quality resource to all entities that deal with student-athletes and physically active people of all levels.

Although it is important that athletes, parents, coaches, school personnel, and even officials are properly educated about concussions, certified athletic trainers, based on their in-depth education and clinical practice on the topic, are the most proficient at appropriately recognizing and managing them. Nowinski, who is also Co-Founder and President of the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) and Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University’s School of Medicine, agrees, “Athletic trainers are an underappreciated resource and advocate for athlete safety. While ATs play a crucial role in leading the education of athletes and coaches, studies are now showing that athletic trainers are dramatically better at recognizing and assessing concussions than coaches, meaning if they are at the game or practice, fewer athletes are playing through an undiagnosed brain injury. Knowing the risks and the data, it’s hard to believe we don’t provide ATs at all contact sports events for all ages. I hope that more sports programs provide athletic trainers with the opportunity to lead on this issue.”

In addition to concussion-related material, presentations throughout the weekend covered topics from sudden cardiac emergencies, advanced airway management, hand rehabilitation, legal aspects and the history of NYSATA. The Student Program, in its inaugural year, drew five undergraduate AT students from across NYS. The NYSATA golf tournament at the historic Chautauqua Golf Club and raffles throughout the weekend also raised $1,000 to benefit the Ronald McDonald House.

NYSATA, founded in 1976 and incorporated in 1989, stands to advance, encourage and improve the profession of athletic training by developing the common interests of its membership for the purpose of enhancing the quality of healthcare for the physically active in New York State. Comprised of over 1,200 certified and practicing athletic trainers, NYSATA is the state-wide affiliate of the regional Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association (EATA) and District Two of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA).

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Deanna Errico
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