Making headway in concussion protocol

At issue: Concussions are becoming more common in sports.

Our take: Emerson’s protocol and safety measures should be applauded.

The ugly secret that has been plaguing athletics at all levels across the country is no longer a secret: concussions have been underdiagnosed and improperly treated. Emerson’s athletic trainers, however, have made efforts to correct this.

The NCAA requires member schools to have their athletes sign concussion waivers. In the true theme of the money-sucking vacuum that is the NCAA, liability is shifted away from the governing body and onto the athletes themselves. 

But there is no money to be earned at the Division 3 level in which Emerson competes. Therefore, the NCAA should protect the one thing the student-athletes who will not turn professional will need in their post-college days: their brains. 

At Emerson, in an effort spearheaded by head athletic trainer Mandy Nicoles, student athletes who participate in contact sports are required to take a baseline test that measures their neurocognitive levels. This test ensures that if an athlete suffers a concussion, there is tangible data to compare to his or her post-concussion functionality, allowing for a more precise diagnosis and treatment.

While the NCAA requires no such testing for its athletes, Nicoles and the Emerson athletic trainers have gone beyond the status quo to protect their student athletes’ futures.

Related efforts have also been made by freshman Molly Caron, a soccer player who suffered a serious concussion in high school. She has worked diligently on a bill that would require Massachusetts high schools to perform the same baseline tests Emerson currently requires. Had these tests been in place when Caron herself was in high school, her diagnosis and recovery might have been more efficient. While there’s no do-overs with regards to her medical history, it’s admirable to see Caron working to improve the conditions for future high school athletes.

The long term effects of concussions can be devastating — from memory loss to depression — and can seriously alter one’s adult life. When Emerson entered the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference this fall, the level of competition increased. Nicoles said that might be why she and her staff have already diagnosed twice as many concussions through November as they did during all of last year. But Emerson athletes can find solace knowing that if they themselves are in this complicated medical situation, they’ll be in the hands of those who have proven to have a dedicated interest in this issue.

Student-athletes at Emerson are not pursuing lucrative, seven-figure professional contracts — at least not when it comes to the sport they play. Their livelihood and their professional prospects lay solely in their noggins. And while the NCAA has proved it prioritizes its revenue stream over the students themselves, it’s assuring to see Nicoles and Emerson athletic trainers taking the measures to protect students.