By Tim Jimenez
WYNNEWOOD, P.a. (CBS) — There has been a sharper eye on concussions in sports in recent years. So, for two hours Thursday night, a panel of doctors, along with a Big 5 men’s basketball coach, shared their thoughts at Lankenau Medical Center in an auditorium filled with medical professionals, coaches and others.
Phil Martelli, the longtime St. Joseph’s University men’s basketball coach, is the first to tell you he is no medical expert. However, as the keynote speaker during a discussion led by Main Line Health neurologists, he said his role at the symposium was to talk about making decisions based on the health of his players and that his job is more than just trying to win on the court.
“Parents, coaches, athletic trainers and team doctors are very aware that it’s about a game today, but it’s about (the players’) health for life,” he said.
Martelli, entering his 19th season on Hawk Hill, told the crowd about his playing days at Widener University. He recalled staying in a game after being elbowed in the head after a jump ball. He said it did not matter that he was dazed and confused. “I knew that there was a blue team and I knew there was a white team,” he said, referring to the color of the uniforms. “(The coach) looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘Then listen, we’re the team in blue, throw the ball to the guys in blue!”
Martelli jokes about that today but said as a coach, a big part of his job is “protecting a family’s pride and joy.”
“We’re in a different world, a better world I believe, in care of our athletes from head to toe,” he said.
Dr. Peter LeRoux, co-director of Lankenau’s Brain and Spine Center agreed.
“If there’s any doubt the athlete is kept out of the game. So there’s the adage, ‘If in doubt, sit them out,’” Dr. LeRoux said.
LeRoux referred to concussions as a, “silent epidemic.” He cited studies that say nearly one-fifth of high school football players will suffer a concussion at some point in their careers. He said that is a concern, but what’s more critical is protecting the athlete going forward.
“One concussion is probably, if properly treated, not going to have much in the way of long-term consequences,” he said. “It’s the repetitive concussions that are far more dangerous.”
LeRoux is hopeful that the push for safer tackling in football will lead to less brain injuries. As for parents concerned their children may start playing the sport, he said they should not be overly cautious.
“A concussion can occur in any scenario. You take a child out of playing American football but he skateboards, or rides his bicycle or he goes bungee jumping. There are many activities that you can get a concussion in,” he said.