December 21, 2010
At a time when medical experts are trying harder than ever to educate athletes and coaches about the dangers of concussions, Louisville's Rick Pitino single-handedly proved there's more work to be done.
Asked whether Elijah Justice had gotten hurt in Saturday's victory over Gardner-Webb, Pitino acknowledged the freshman guard suffered a concussion as a result of an elbow to the face. Pitino then dismissively suggested concussions have become such a point of emphasis that doctors are being over-cautious when players complain of symptoms after even the slightest blow to the head.
"It's the 17th concussion we've had this year," Pitino told a roomful of reporters. "I've been coaching now 35 years and I've seen five concussions in 35 years. Now the new thing is everybody has a concussion. If you walk out and slightly brush the door, you have a concussion. That's the way it is today."
A statement like this one from Pitino sends a dangerous message to Justice, Rakeem Buckles, Kyle Kuric and any other Cardinals who sustain a concussion this season. Instead of encouraging them to take all the time they need to ensure concussions don't become a recurring problem, Pitino belittles players who sit out due to concussion symptoms and not-so-subtly pressures team doctors to clear players faster.
The longterm ramifications of concussions are a bigger story in football because they're more prevalent in a contact-heavy sport, but brain injuries happen frequently enough in basketball that coaches need to preach caution.
Six Air Force basketball players suffered concussions last season, one of which was severe enough to force starting center Sammy Schafer to miss all but the first four games of the year. And Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne forward John Peckinpaugh sustained four concussions during his sophomore season, sidelining him for 12 games and forcing him to wear a boxing helmet in practices and games this season in order to continue his career.
The NCAA provides student-athletes and coaches in all sports a safety pamphlet reminding them that "all concussions are serious" and that repeat concussions are more likely to cause longterm damage.
It's an important message considering that athletes in previous eras often wouldn't reveal when they suffered from nausea or wooziness after a blow to the head for fear of looking soft.
Maybe Pitino has already taken the time to educate himself about concussions and their side effects. Even so, it seems like it's time for a refresher course.