Understand the Risks
October 6, 2014
Dr. Rosanna Sabini, Brain Injury & Concussion Rehabilitation Physician, Southside Hospital
Understand the Risks
BY CARRIE MILLER STAFF WRITER
The sudden loss of Tom Cutinella, a guard and linebacker on the Shoreham-Wading River High School football team, stands as a reminder of the dangers young athletes face, said Dr. Rosanna Sabini, a brain injury and concussion rehabilitation physician at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Southside Hospital.
Dr. Sabini has authored several studies regarding traumatic brain injuries, helped write “Return-to-Play” guidelines and has testified in the Senate regarding concussion legislation aimed at protecting youth athletes.
She spoke with The Suffolk Times the morning after the 16-year-old’s death.
Q: According to The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, there have been an average of 3.1 deaths of high school football players due to direct contact per season in the last 10 years nationwide. In a week’s time, three young high school players have died, according to ESPN, and two of those deaths were related to a direct hit. How concerned should parents be?
A: I think that it is a concern and it brings light to the sport and the dangers related to playing a high-impact contact sport. I think that three having happened in such a short period of time is probably a random scenario, but having three happen at once will hopefully shed more light on the potential for injury and the severity of the injury that one might sustain in such a sport. I just hope it opens more eyes.
Q: The term “freak accident” was used to explain Tom Cutinella’s death. Do you think that is a fair explanation?
A: Considering how many students are playing football in any given season, it is rare to see something like this. But to call it a freak accident knowing that there is that potential risk factor is kind of contradictory, because the risk has always been there. You can’t really prevent a concussion when the entire goal is to tackle someone and potentially slow them down and go full-force at them. The nature of the sport has its inherent risk for the injury, so to call it a freak accident, I think, is very naïve.
Q: What advice would you give to the coaches of young players moving forward?
A: They have to be educated. It starts with education. They have to understand the risk factors. They have to understand the symptoms an athlete can present with. They have to be dependent on athletic directors and student athletes to provide information to them if there is any suspicion when a student athlete is to be taken out [of the game].
Q: Head injuries sustained from football have become a hot topic in recent years. Why is this discussed more frequently today than ever before?
A: I think it’s because, one, now all 50 states have a concussion law in place. The spur of the media brought more attention to that. The NFL, in particular, has been in the news a lot related to lawsuits over concussions and whether [the NFL] may or may not have covered up some of the longterm effects of the concussions. The media coverage of these NFL players
— who tend to be celebrities and get that notoriety and attention — has brought these injuries to light.
Q: Which players are most at risk? A: Linemen and quarterbacks tend to sustain more concussions and injuries. They are subject to the high-speed contact and force that predisposes them to injuries.
Q: What can be done to make the
sport safer moving forward? A: I think, as with any other situation, you have to learn from devastating events. The best way is to try as much to prevent injury from happening. Yes, the equipment needs to be better padded ... but another way is to reconsider certain rules and plays where it prevents certain hits that constantly subject someone to [contact]; so changing rules and enforcing them and penalizing those that do not follow the rules.
At the end of the day, I think this has to come from the NFL, because these young kids look at these professional players as role models, so I think the league needs to rightly change rules and provide the right role models for how to appropriately play.