The NFL shared an interview it recently conducted with Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth of NorthShore University HealthSystem last week. Pieroth serves as neurological consultant for the Chicago Bears, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Fire and Chicago White Sox. Pieroth is also a member of the Heads Up Football Advisory Committee. She answered some questions on culture change and sports safety.
With kids heading back to the playing field this fall, what’s the #1 thing you tell parents about youth sports safety?
I want all parents to know that youth sports organizations take the health and safety of their children very seriously. The governing bodies for each youth sport (football, baseball, hockey, soccer and many more) work diligently to examine injury rates in their sports and seek ways to reduce or eliminate those injuries. I would strongly encourage all parents to talk to the coaches or the heads of their local organizations to make sure they are following proper safety guidelines.
How does your experience with professional teams lend itself to treating youth athletes?
To work with athletes, professional all the way down to our youngest participants, you need to appreciate the heart of an athlete. That 10-year-old may not have the experience level of a pro player but he or she may have the same level of determination and love of their sport. We need to value the dedication of the amateur athlete as much as we do the professional.
What concerns do you hear from players and/or parents about head injuries?
The most frequent concern relates to the possibility of permanent dysfunction from a concussion. I explain to each parent that if the injury is managed well and the athlete does not suffer another concussion while they are healing from the first, we expect full recovery. Additionally, parents ask a great deal of questions about equipment. I tell them to be very skeptical of any products’ claim that it reduces or eliminates concussion. To date, there are no helmets, mouth guards, headbands or other sport accessory that will fully prevent a concussion.
What sort of culture changes have you seen regarding head injuries across all sports?
I have been assessing athletes with concussions for 16 years now and have seen a dramatic shift. In the beginning of my career, athletes, their parents and the medical community as a whole tended to minimize the significance of concussions, even multiple concussive injuries. We have seen a rapid change in the focus on concussion, which has resulted in much greater education for athletes, their parents and all those who care for these athletes. Unfortunately, we also have a significant amount of misinformation that is available to the public, which can cause some unnecessary concern. Our challenge now is to make sure that information available is scientifically sound and specific for various age groups and sports.