WASHINGTON – Former Arizona State University quarterback Steven Threet told a Senate committee Wednesday that football players are “still uninformed” about concussions, overestimating the protection a helmet provides.
The 22-year-old Threet, who retired from football last year after his fourth concussion, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that many athletes prefer to play through concussions to appear tough.
“I don’t think brain injury is viewed as a serious issue (among) athletes,” he said. “It wasn’t for me, before I had a concussion.”
The hearing was called to scrutinize claims by companies about “concussion-resistant” products such as helmets, mouth guards and nutritional supplements.
Two doctors and the head of an athletic equipment safety group said that no equipment can truly prevent a concussion and there’s no data to support claims that anything on the market can significantly reduce chances of a concussion.
“The public deserves to know that equipment has an important but inherently limited ability to prevent concussions,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a neurologist who works with the University of Michigan’s football program. “There still is a tremendous amount yet to be learned.”
Threet stopped playing football after suffering his fourth concussion, in a game against UCLA in November. He began to question his health as he suffered daily headaches and dizziness, he testified Wednesday.
A concussion occurs when a person’s brain shifts inside his or her skull. It is usually caused by a blow to the head or a violent jolt to the upper body. Symptoms – including dizziness, nausea and headaches – may not appear until days later.
But the effects of concussions can linger later in life, neurologist Dr. Ann McKee testified.
McKee, who studied the brain of former Chicago Bears player David Duerson and other athletes who suffered concussions, said the injuries can spur chronic traumatic encephalopathy – CTE – that may not be apparent for years or decades. CTE typically begins to show in midlife, McKee said, and it can later impair movement, speech and cognitive skills.
She noted that concussion research is relatively new and “what we have learned in the past five years has been extraordinary.”
Threet said he played in games a week after his first and third concussions. The Centers for Disease Control say athletes are more likely to suffer a second concussion shortly after suffering one, and those are likely to be more severe.
Threet, sitting about five feet from McKee during her testimony on CTE, later said the thought of future complications from his concussions concerns him, but he thinks he is in a good position to avoid that because of his retirement.
“It’s reality, but by making the decision that I did, I put myself in the best position to try to avoid as much of that as I can,” he said after the hearing.
Wednesday was not Threet’s first appearance in front of a legislative body on the issue of concussions. He spoke to the Arizona Legislature in support of the state’s Senate Bill 1521, which requires high schools to distribute information on concussion risks and treatment to athletes and parents.
That bill was signed into law in April, and the Arizona Interscholastic Association – which governs high school sports in the state – mandated in August that athletes must complete an interactive video session on concussions.
Threet, who helps coach ASU’s football team while he finishes his degree, is a public relations intern with Banner Health in Sun City, where he is helping publicize Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-related issues.
“Obviously, I’m always going to be tied to the concussion issue,” he said. “If it’s going to be my career for the rest of my life, I don’t know, but I feel strongly about it.”
Joshua Armstrong is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.