HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — A former WVU neurosurgeon is continuing his work to increase understanding and preventing brain injury in sports.
Dr. Julian Bailes spent last Friday evening on the Marshall University campus at an event hosted by the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.
Bailes, a former WVU department chairman who was portrayed by actor Alec Baldwin in the 2015 movie “Concussion,” is a nationally recognized neurosurgeon and expert in concussions and brain trauma. He also is a founder of the Brain Injury Research Institute, which studies traumatic brain injuries and how to prevent them.
According to the Center for Disease Control, there are between 1.6 to 3.8 million sports and recreational concussions per year. Football accounts for around 60 percent of those concussions.
While there is a risk in playing football, Bailes said last week during an appearance on MetroNews “Talkline” it shouldn’t stop anyone who wants to play from playing as long as they, and possibly their parents, know the risks.
“The majority of people do not end up with any kind of brain damage playing football,” Bailes said. “No matter what the number is however, it is important. We have tried at every level to reduce unnecessary obligatory head contact.”
Bailes said every coach, association and league at every level of play need to work on reducing those risks. He said he’s witnessed changes in the way the game is played since his research brought cause for concern to football participants nationwide.
“The NFL was slow to make changes, but they have done a lot,” Bailes said. “I’m not sure there is a whole lot more they can do. During the last Collective Bargaining Agreement they reduced the number of contact practices to 14, they have eliminated the egregious head to head hits, so I think they have done many things to reduce the gratuitous unnecessary head contact.”
Bailes doesn’t just see changes at the highest level of the sport though, even Pop Warner, one of the oldest and largest youth football leagues in the United States, is trying to reduce the risk of injury occurring to its players.
“Pop Warner eliminated head contact drills in practice, they reduced practice contact time down to one-fourth of all the hours of the week, and this past season they eliminated kickoffs for the younger age groups,” Bailes said. “We have done a lot to try and be on the cutting edge of coaching, parent, and athlete education.”
Bailes said everyone is learning how to be smarter when it comes to the football field, and even the equipment is being reviewed to see if improvements can be made.
“There has been a lot of interests in improving the helmet,” Bailes said. “The helmet has really not changed in design for several decades.”
Bailes also mentioned a collar in development that reduces the amount of blood in the head to keep the brain from sloshing around, reducing the chance of a concussion.
Bailes said the biggest change though is everyone just being smarter about concussions.
“We have learned the importance of playing smart and practicing smart,” Bailes said. “We have to recognize concussions when they occur and not letting players return to play until they have completely healed.”