The Wall Street Journal published a devastating story today about Kenney Bui, a high school football player in Washington state who died two years ago at age 17, days after a collision in a game caused him to lose consciousness on the sideline. What distinguishes Bui’s death—aside from the obvious—is that he had sustained another concussion just one month earlier and was cleared to play again, even after a commonly used cognitive evaluation seemed to indicate his brain was healed. Separately but similarly, SB Nation is out with a deep dive that details how easy it is for NFL players to game the concussion evaluations they’re given under the guise of the league’s protocol. The takeaways from both pieces is that the testing used to evaluate and understand concussions is inadequate and still evolving. And that no amount of precaution can keep traumatic brain injury from being inherent to the game of football.
McCrea said the early findings show that the biological symptoms of an injured brain last significantly longer than the clinical signals that health professionals gauge through symptoms and cognitive testing. That finding is crucial because scientists know that after an initial concussion there is a time of heightened danger when athletes face a major risk of significant injury or even death if they experience another head trauma. “Ultimately,” McCrea told the Journal, “we want to know not only when the athlete is recovered but when his or her brain is safe and ready to play.”