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Pro Teams Help Coalition Tackle Head Injuries

Associated Press

An unexpected benefit of having so many professional sports teams in Las Vegas now is the opportunity to study head injuries across these sports.

Perhaps even more surprising, the teams themselves are on board to help with the study. A coalition of 10 organizations — including the Vegas Golden Knights, Professional Bull Riders, Raiders, and UFC — is working with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health to track brain health in athletes from hockey to mixed martial arts.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to bring these sports organizations together, which has not generally been the case," said Dr. Charles Bernick, a neurologist with the Ruvo Center. 

He said each sport has its own concussion protocol and individual sports usually take care of their own athletes. However, there are commonalities in the types of injuries that those athletes suffer and the long-term consequences.

The plan is for teams and organizations involved with the coalition to send information they gather from their athletes to Bernick's team. However, the health information won't just be turned over after a diagnosed concussion.

“We think there is much more to it than that," he said, "Concussions only really occur if people report it or if people have symptoms. It may be that impacts to the head that don’t cause obvious symptoms but may accumulate.”

Bernick said the idea is to come back with research on how to make sports safer.

“Our goal is really at some point to translate what we get from our research, what we learn, to policies and practices that can then help brain health," he said.

Besides research and eventually advocacy for better policies and practices, Bernick said the coalition has an immediate goal of education.

The coalition plans on launching an education program about head injuries. The idea, Bernick said, is to make sure people on all levels of sports from parents on the sidelines to athletic trainers in the locker room understand the symptoms of head trauma and the long-term risks.

While in the past some professional sports leagues have been reluctant to admit safety risks or their role in addressing them, Bernick said the coalition has been tremendously supportive.

“So far, all the organizations have been very, very supportive and enthusiastic to work with us,” he said.

The first stages of research on head injuries started when the Ruvo Center studied boxers and mixed martial arts fighters in Las Vegas. This new program is an extension of the first research projects.

Bernick said initial research would not have gotten off the ground without the help of UFC, Top Rank and other fight promoters in Southern Nevada.

One of the questions lingering in research into brain injury is why some people who suffer repeated head injury develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE and others don't.

“We believe that that is a disease like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s where it’s a progressive degeneration of the brain," Bernick said, "Certainly, it is caused by repetitive head impacts but there must be other factors involved because not everybody who gets concussions develops this.”

From Desert Companion: Right in the Head

Charles Bernick, Consultant and Primary Investigator of the Professional Athletes' Brain Health Study, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.