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'A Concussion Discussion': Sports professionals talk Shepherd's Common Reading Book topic
March 13, 2020

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SHEPHERDSTOWN -- Every year, Shepherd University's Common Reading Program hosts a discussion centered around the topic of their Common Reading Book for the previous year. The event, which was held in the Robert C. Byrd Center on March 3 this year, allows program participants to gain an additional perspective on the book's topic.

This year's event was no exception to the rule, as new book-related information and research was discussed, including its connection with Shepherd University.

"We're excited for you to hear what is being done here at Shepherd University, and also in the world of sports, in general, for the prevention of concussions," said Students in Transition Coordinator Shannon Holliday, mentioning the Common Reading Program is funded by the Shepherd University Foundation. "The Shepherd University Common Reading Book was a book on concussions, which was the inspiration for this event. Every year has a new themed event, related to the book."

The 2019-2020 book, "Concussion," by Jean Marie Laskas, is about Dr. Bennet Omalu. The former Allegheny County Coroner's Office pathologist who made the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a retired Pittsburgh Steelers football player, setting off a nationwide discussion of how playing the game impacts brain function. However, according to the panelists in the discussion, the validity of Omalu's CTE research has come into question, as he said he lost the football player's brain, which was the most important evidence supporting his research.

"One January 2, 2020, in the Washington Post, it was exposed that Dr. Omalu has been promoting bad science," panelist Kevin Lynott said. "Some of what he taught was true, but some was also very incorrect."

While CTE's connection with concussions is currently under debate in the medical world, the panelists all agreed that modern research on concussions have led to them being treated more seriously now in sports than ever before.

The discussion of the four panelists, Shepherd Athletics team physician Dr. Ryan Sprouse, former Shepherd All-American football player and USA Football employee Lynott, Shepherd Head Women's Lacrosse Coach Jenny Miller and SU assistant trainer Nyc Duncan, was moderated by Assistant Professor of Biology Jay Menke.

"This is the best time ever to play any type of contact sport," Lynott said, mentioning he saw the changes in treatment develop over 25 years of teaching high school football and in his current job at USA Football. "All of our techniques at USA Football are based on science. We define a concussion as a blow to the brain through a jolt to the body. We have five-or-six-day concussion protocols that we teach football teams across the country to use."

Duncan said these protocols are used at Shepherd, and require the injured person to completely return back to normal life, before beginning to participate in contact sports again.

According to Lynott, only the short-term effects of concussions have been proven to-date, and he cautions people on believing CTE research that is based upon the single recent study from the McKee Group, proving its connection with concussions.

"We need to take all of the CTE research into context, because all of the research confirming contact sports' connection with concussions is from the McKee Group," Lynott said. "The McKee Group has been handing out its research to legislators and national news outlets, regarding concussions."

Shepherd has extensive procedures for identifying and caring for concussions, and at the event, the addition of its newest concussion prevention mechanism was announced. A Pendulum 5-Way Neck machine, from the Rogers Athletic Company, has been donated to the Shepherd Athletic Department by the Stilley Family Foundation, in honor of Lorrie Stilley's son, who is a member of the football team.

Voting for the 2020-2021 Common Reading Book is going on now through March 31. Visit www.shepherd.edu/commonreading to cast your vote.

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