Indiana State University Newsroom

Panel examines ethics of concussions in contact athletics

March 26, 2014

It's still OK to encourage youth to get involved in football and other contact sports where concussions occur, a group of panelists participating in a student-led discussion at Indiana State University determined.At the same time, the panelists at the Tuesday evening event concluded it is essential to teach players proper techniques in order to minimize the dangers of concussions.

Panelists Mike Sanford, Indiana State's head football coach; Kendall Walker, an Indiana State linebacker who suffered a severe concussion last season; Chris Barrett, Terre Haute North Vigo High School head football coach and parent of a player; and Dr. Thomas E. Klootwyk, an orthopedic surgeon for the Indianapolis Colts-Methodist Sports Medicine Team.

Sanford said the Indiana State athletics department has a concussion policy based on the most recent research that says players are not allowed back in the game until four days after they have stopped experiencing symptoms of a concussion. Players are also screened at a pre-season baseline testing to measure cognitive function pre-concussion.

"Bottom line, we have a policy and I completely trust our athletic trainers and doctors to inform me when a player is well enough to return to the field," he said. "I've been coaching 37 years and there's been an evolutionary process on how concussions are treated. Sports medicine has changed and developed. I want a healthy team on the field that is able to compete, but when these guys love the game, that's where the decision comes. Sometimes, more than outside pressure, I think it's more about players not wanting to admit problems they're experience because of a concussion, so we need to work on getting them to report problems. It's about the kids."

The panel discussion will be followed today (Wednesday) by the Ethics Conference, which will feature breakout sessions on workplace ethics from 1-3:50 p.m. in Hulman Memorial Student Union's Dede Activity Centers. Conference registration begins at 11 a.m. with the conference starting at 11:45 a.m. An agenda is available at panel discussion evolved from a PBS documentary on concussions, something Walker experienced for the first last season when he sidelined for five weeks due to complications because of the injury.

"I was a little frightened after it happened," Walker said. "I've been through a lot of hard hits but things cleared up. When I got the concussion though, it was the first time that problems didn't clear up and I stayed foggy for awhile, and Coach Sanford was supportive of me through it, and he and the trainers listened to me and kept me off the field."

Klootwyk said it is the job of coaches and trainers to stay up-to-date on the latest concussion research and "return players to the field as soon as they can safely."

"I don't have a problem saying, 'Not today,' to a player," he said. "The problem is, unlike with a sprained ankle, where it's easy to see a player limping, with a concussion sometimes the players don't report their symptoms. Coaches and trainers need to watch more because better monitoring and assessing of players will help. We don't know the long-term damage of concussions yet, but in the short-term we need to prevent catastrophic events and be better at pulling guys out of the game if there are problems."

It will also be beneficial to teach players good techniques on the field from an early age, Sanford said.

"A critical thing is having proper equipment for youth players and teaching proper tackling techniques," he said. "I think a lot of people who are in coaching care about the kids and their ethics are generally in the right place when it comes to concussions in sports."

Writer: Betsy Simon, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-7972 or