Here’s to Mark Lovell, founding director of the sports concussion program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
He and his hospital were pioneers in taking head injuries seriously for the teams it provides medical care for, namely the Pittsburgh Steelers, University of Pittsburgh athletes and even the Pittsburgh Ballet. In the 1990’s, Lovell was one of the creators of baseline testing, which is used as a yardstick to decide if a player is ready to return to the field again.
This weekend the UPMC’s Center for Sports Medicine held its annual concussion conference, which USA Today covered. It attracted roughly 450 attendees, according to the newspaper. That’s a significant increase from the 100 who came to the first conference back in 1996, which Lovell helped organize. That was the same year that I launched TBILaw.com.
This year’s conference was called “Emerging Frontiers in Concussions: Advancement in Assessment, Management and Rehabilitation.”
A good part of USA Today’s story was about a concussion case study that involved Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2009. On a Sunday night game in November that year, Roethlisberger sustained a concussion. USA Today reported that the quarterback passed his baseline test early the next week, and felt fine during practices that week.
But by Friday, Roethlisberger wasn’t feeling well, USA Today said. He flew to Baltimore Saturday, where the Steelers were set to play against their division rivals, the Ravens. That Saturday morning, the quarterback still wasn’t OK.
But by Saturday night, Roethlisberger said he felt great, according to USA Today, and no longer had headaches. With its important game looming, the Steelers had to decide whether to let their star quarterback play. Rather than take any risks, Roethlisberger wasn’t allowed to play, per the team’s rule: A player has to be asymptomatic for 24 hours before a game before he can be allowed to play. Roethlisberger wasn’t.
It seems like the Steelers paid a price for this decision. Without their starter quarterback, the Steelers lost to the Ravens in overtime, USA Today said. Before the game, Roethlisberger was criticized for not playing against Baltimore.
The Steelers’ decision to keep Roethlisberger off the gridiron is a great example of a team walking the walk, not just talking the talk, when it comes to concussion safety. The organization may have paid a price, but it did so for the good of a team member.