The renowned neurosurgeon is working to prevent brain injury in sports
March 8, 2016 12:00 AM
University of Pittsburgh
Neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon. Heindl Scholar in Neuroscience and clinical professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, vice chair of UPMC Community Medicine and director of Tri-State Neurosurgical Associates
By Bob Fitzsimmons
Concussions, brain injuries and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) have captured the attention of the media and public over the past decade. Players and parents are asking themselves whether they or their children should play football or other contact sports. Those of us who have played these sports are often conflicted by the latest findings, given the good things that team sports encourage — leadership, work ethic, desire, camaraderie, cooperation, dedication and sacrifice.
Irrespective of where you stand on contact sports, however, the discussion has inspired wonderful research designed to identify risks and help make sports safer, which we all can applaud — even those of us who are not ready to heed a growing call to eliminate contact sports, especially among our youth.
The recent movie “Concussion” portrayed part of this storyline in Hollywood fashion. The brilliant neuropathologist, Bennet Omalu, was pitted against the National Football League in his effort to have the league recognize and take remedial steps to address CTE caused by football-related activities.
One scene depicted a critical time in this still-unfolding timeline. A meeting was held between two world-renowned neurosurgeons, Julian Bailes and Joe Maroon, together with Dr. Omalu. From this scene, it is not clear whether Dr. Maroon is one of the “good guys.”
I was present at a meeting in Morgantown, W.Va., with these doctors and I can tell you that Dr. Maroon is one of the “good guys.” During this meeting Dr. Maroon and another doctor viewed and discussed the stained brain-tissue slides of the Hall-of-Fame Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, among others. Dr. Maroon then took what he saw in those slides and conveyed the doctors’ findings to the NFL in such a convincing fashion that the league soon took steps to make the game safer. Without Dr. Maroon’s participation and stature as one of the premier neurosurgeons in the world, such changes probably would have been delayed.
Dr. Maroon has devoted his entire career to helping people and has been an advocate of player safety on all levels. He should be commended for his influential efforts to make football and all contact sports safer.
Although not depicted in the movie, Steelers owner Dan Rooney and the Steelers organization were fully cooperative, compassionate and caring throughout Mike Webster’s claim and upon his death. As the Pittsburgh tri-state area already knows, we are blessed to have Joseph Maroon and the Rooney family as our neighbors.
Bob Fitzsimmons is an attorney with Fitzsimmons Law Firm, based in Wheeling, W.Va. He represented Mike Webster in his disability claim and lawsuit against the NFL Pension Board and also is a director of the Brain Injury Research Institute.
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