Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Head Games Review

Last week, I downloaded a copy of the video documentary Head Games. This film has received high praise from many in the film industry and the medical community. It shines a spotlit on the ever growing issue of concussions (mild traumatic brain injuries) in athletics today.

Much of the first half of the film is a thorough explanation about who some of the key people are in the country who are working to raise the of awareness this issue. During this time, the film describes the ongoing fight to bring a greater awareness of the seriousness of this injury into the public consciousness, especially with how that struggle was, and is continuing to be fought with the National Football League. The producers try to show how the NFL was working to keep the concussion issues covered up and likens the NFL's actions to a police officer at a crime scene telling everyone to "Keep moving, there is nothing to see here." As to whether or not they were also trying to hint that the NFL should be liable for some criminal misdoings, please draw your own conclusions.

After the film finishes with its history of the NFL, they spend time showing that this is not a problem that is exclusive to football. The producers tell about the prevalence of concussions in the National Hockey League, soccer, boxing, and other sports. They interview some victims of TBI who range from high school to retired professional athletes. All of interviewees tell the similar stories. They were so anxious to play, to not let the team down, that they were willing to risk sacrificing their future for a game. The interviewees also state that they were often making these decisions from an undereducated position. They then attempt to reinforce that if they knew what they do now, their decisions would likely have been different.

This is welcome and I am excited to see the advocacy for changing the attitudes about concussions in the public eye.  I have had too many confrontations and overly tense discussions with athletes and their parents when I decide to hold them out of competition because of a potential concussion.

The biggest criticism that I have with this film is that the lack of attention that is given to the often required academic accommodations for youth victims. This is such an important part of the recovery that is often being overlooked and even scorned by many school districts. I am lucky to work in a school district that understands the issue well and is willing to work with me to help accommodate the needs of their injured kids so well. (Many thanks to the school nurses, administration, and teaching staff at http://www.perry-lake.org.)  However, one does not have to work hard to find horror stories about how kids were treated by their peers and, in some instances, adults when they were recovering from a concussion.  Too many people do not understand that cognitive rest could be just as important in the recovery process as physical rest.

I understand that there are limiting factors such as time and money when making a film of this kind, but I saw no references that would have allowed viewers to go to a website like the CDC's (http://www.cdc.gov/concussions) to find more information. This is a very easy and inexpensive thing to add to any movie. To really make this easy, a QR code could have been added to the credits  to allow viewers to jump to a website with a listing of additional resources.

I know, I'm being a little picky here, but two things are motivating this small rant. The first is my educational background that always has me thinking about how to improve the use of technology to educate populations. (My thanks to Cleveland State University for that Masters degree in Educational Technologies; I hope I am putting their instruction to good use.)

The second reason is that the film has such a golden opportunity to educate that I think they just missed a chance to make it significantly better at little cost. Like I said, this might be a petty criticism, but I think it needed to be done in this film. There are many subtopics to concussions that need to be discussed. Further complicating the problem is that the data surrounding concussions, and all of its subtopics, is constantly evolving. The producers could easily make each of these subtopics into their own full length films if they wanted to give them the attention they deserve. I simply think that the follow up to this film could have been improved by giving convenient access to information that is continuously updated and relevant.

In closing, I highly recommend this film to anyone with an interest in youth athletics and I will probably show this film to my colleagues in a movie night. We may even try to make a continuing education discussion using the film as the centerpiece of our discussion. The film also serves as a notice for those that are still skeptical as to why this issue is so important. This film explains why the changes need to be made in the games we play before we end up losing them completely.

One small addendum:
I meant to include Dustin Fink's work at The Concussion Blog in the list of links of highly valuable resources. I can't state enough how much praise he deserves for the work he doing there.