Arena Football League adopts strict guidelines on concussions
May 5, 2011 4:00 AM
The walls of Arena Football League games are padded, but it's still jarring to be driven into one. Philadelphia's Tanner Varner tackles the Power's Jason Willis in the season opener at Consol Energy Center.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Power receiver Irving Campbell has been on injured reserve because of a concussion since March 24. He is close to returning to practice but has not yet been cleared.
"They're being very [cautious] being that it's a concussion and the [Sidney] Crosby situation," Campbell said, referring to the Penguins center who missed half the season with a concussion. "After two weeks I was able to start exerting myself a little more. We're being patient."
In arena football, players face the same injury risks as outdoor football -- big strong men colliding at top speed -- with the addition of immovable walls surrounding a smaller playing surface. Campbell said he got his concussion March 19 against the Iowa Barnstormers when a defender hit him into the wall.
"I played one play after that," he said. "I wasn't looking too good, my eyes got real big and blurry."
His teammates noticed something was wrong and alerted the coaches, who removed Campbell. Since then, he has taken cognitive baseline tests every week and said his scores are climbing but are not high enough for him to return to practice. He originally had headaches, pressure behind his eyes and trouble sleeping, but has improved to the point where he can work out without contact.
"I can pretty much exert myself to the fullest," Campbell said. "If I feel any symptoms, headaches or anything like that they tell me to stop. I haven't had any of those experiences yet."
Power cornerback Josh Lay got a concussion while making a tackle April 2 against the Tulsa Talons. His helmet collided with the ballcarrier's helmet and he immediately left the field. Lay, who has not played since, was unavailable for comment because he is serving a two-game suspension for violating a team rule. AFL rules prohibit players from attending practice while suspended.
UPMC, the sports medicine provider to the Power, gives baseline tests to all the players before the season. The AFL requires teams to provide full medical coverage to its players, Power president Peter Hill said. AFL commissioner Jerry Kurz said the league has requirements for sports medicine providers and concussion treatment but declined to elaborate, citing league privacy and legal restrictions.
"There are standards as to what must be provided by our teams to our players in this area, as in all areas," Kurz said.
Power coach Chris Siegfried said he did not know exactly what the league policy on concussion treatment was, but is confident in UPMC's care.
"Whatever the league's policy is on concussions, ours is going to be more strict," he said.
"A few years ago, [Campbell] probably would have only missed a game. He probably would have been playing that next week -- 'If you don't have a headache, you're playing.' But now, with today's technology, with UPMC and the training staff like we have, they're able to determine 'Hey, he's not where he needs to be with his head.' "
Team doctor Thomas Sisk, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Pitt, said he was not sure of written league guidelines for treating concussions, but he follows UMPC guidelines in his dealings with the players.
"I believe we have a good system that works," he said.
The NFL has retooled its concussion treatment policy often in the past few years. Major League Baseball instituted a seven-day disabled list this season for players with concussions. During the general managers meeting in March, the NHL mandated that any player exhibiting concussion symptoms must be examined by a doctor in the locker room.
In March 2010, former Colorado Crush kicker Clay Rush sued the Crush's team physician for failing to properly treat repeated hits to the head in 2008, according to the complaint.
The incidents occurred in the previous incarnation of the AFL, a different entity than what currently exists. The Denver District Court said a jury trial for the case was scheduled to begin in September.
Despite the presence of the walls, Campbell said players can't worry about injury while playing.
"You just play football," he said. "You can't be concerned about getting hurt because that's where you do get hurt. It just so happened I [was] hit the wrong way. I'm not going to change my game."
Sisk said the players' understanding of where the walls are and how to play near them may help them avoid injuries.
"I have to think that they're more cognizant of that," he said.