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James Stewart, Dave Mirra and the NFL: Concussion Awareness Comes of Age

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It was back in 2001 when we wrote an opinion piece expressing concern about Travis Pastrana’s continual racing despite a series of concussions, as well as the impact that it could have on fans of the sport of motocross. Truth be told, motocross/supercross riders, football players, hockey players and other participants in sports resulting in occasional or frequent head injury tended to ignore concussions, and quickly jumped back onto the playing field (track/rink) even after suffering a concussion severe enough to cause a period of unconsciousness.  That was then, this is now.

If you pay attention to the news at all, you are aware that the NFL, and football in general, have players who frequently suffer concussions (or subconcussive injuries). Also in the news recently, BMX legend, and multi-time X Games gold medalist Dave Mirra committed suicide. Mirra, as you might expect, like many other high level BMX stunt riders (remember the X Games half-pipe?) had his share of concussions, some of them undoubtedly quite severe. The fear now for any athlete engaging in a sport that results in several concussions over the course of a career is the development of a disease known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy).

CTE and the NFL are the subject of a new, popular Hollywood movie staring Will Smith titled, quite simply, “Concussion”. CTE ” is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.” Follow the link  to learn more detail about what CTE involves, or go to the movies and watch “Concussion”, but understand that CTE can lead to several significant cognitive problems including, among others, depression and progressive dementia.

Did CTE lead to Dave Mirra committing suicide? Possibly (at least one of his friends thinks brain trauma might have been a factor), but it is more clearly a factor in some NFL player suicides, including that of Junior Seau. Fortunately, an awareness that concussions should be taken seriously has developed not only in football, but in motorcycle racing, as well. Consider the case of James Stewart.

As we reported, Stewart suffered a concussion early in round 1 at the Anaheim Supercross on January 9, and has yet to complete a supercross main event as the series heads into round 7 at Arlington, Texas next weekend. Stewart attempted to race the main event at Oakland (round 4) on January 30, but quickly pulled off because he didn’t feel he was ready to come back. You can see a video of Stewart below discussing how he currently feels (the video was taken a few days ago) close to 7 weeks after the injury. He is not committing to racing next weekend in Arlington, Texas, but that appears to be a possiblity.

We think both Stewart and his team (Yoshimura Suzuki Racing) are taking a responsible approach to dealing with the serious concussion Stewart suffered well over a month ago. As we said, this was rare for athletes in general (including motorcycle athletes) at times in the past, but we hope other teams and athletes will follow the example set by Stewart and Yoshimura — recognizing that concussions are a serious injury that can require adequate time for healing before further participation in a sport.

34 Comments

  1. Tracey says:

    This is serious stuff. My son was a BMX biker. He has been “missing” for the past 2 1/2 years. His remains were recently found. When he went missing, there was “confusion” and actions that did not make sense. He walked away from family and friends – not realizing what he was doing. From all the head crashes, something “snapped” in his brain. Now he is gone and we only have memories of a short-lived life. Please take this seriously. Your brain is fragile. If you would like to know more of my son’s story, check his Facebook Page:

    https://www.facebook.com/BrianHistandMissingPerson/

  2. cw says:

    Not “can require”, DO require adequate time for healing before further participation.

    Period.

  3. Provologna says:

    “Concussion” is one of the best I’ve seen. IMO, the NFL exerted its considerable financial muscle to deny Will Smith his well earned Oscar nomination. Ditto the movie itself for Best Movie of the Year. Of the Smith movies I’ve seen, “Concussion” is his best work, by clear margin.

    The number or Pittsburgh Steelers from their Super Bowl Championship era (the 70s) who committed suicide, is beyond the pale. Frankly, it’s shocking. The movie portrays the Steeler’s culpability, and the grace of the team physician who changed sides (admirably played by Alec Baldwin, also denied a well earned Supporting Male Best Actor nomination).

    The San Francisco 49er’s Offensive Lineman Anthony Davis and Line Backer Chris Borland both retired early because of health risk associated with concussion.

  4. Mike Smith says:

    I hope James Stewart takes his time returning to Supercross. He’s a great rider, but no need to rush things if it will affect his long term health. I wish him a full recovery.

  5. Tom R says:

    All this information about head injuries, yet a bazillion riders will still take to the streets bareheaded in states without helmet laws. If/when they crash they would be lucky to get ONLY a concussion.

    Some folks don’t care about this issue, and never will.

  6. bikerrandy says:

    I’ve had a head injury(cracked skull) and know too well how delicate our brains are from impacts. Couldn’t ride a MC again for 3 years until my brain was capable of handling the input of doing so. By input I mean how much decision making it has to do simultaneously compared to driving a car. Then have the quicker reflexes needed when racing and your brain is working it’s ass off, assuming it was ever good enough to do this in the 1st place. I amateur road raced in my 20s so know what that’s about too.

    I’ve seen James Stewart take a lot of head hits over his dirt racing career. Our helmets can only do so much and can’t completely protect our brains in all situations.

  7. "Bob K says:

    Actually, concussion awareness in sports goes back to 1952 when the New England Journal of Medicine suggested the NFL limit concussions to 3, then they’re out. The NFL denied this at the time of course.

    3 is the limit was to be adopted in the NHL and that ended up being another reason for the last lockout, besides the usual salary cap limit.

  8. "Bob K says:

    The first time I an remember him getting knocked out was an outdoor series race, dicing with the goat. It was a high speed stretch, catching air over a hill when his engine seized mid air. Rear wheel stopped rotating and the bike rotated forward, landing him on his head at high speed. I wasn’t sure he was going to survive that one.

    He’s had a lot more since then.

  9. joe B says:

    When James was winning and crashing years ago, friends and I were constantly talking about how long he could, would, continue with such constant head banging. This article seems to indicate the last hit, was the one concussion. In reality, its the consecutive repeated hard hits he has had. The Charlie Rose episode that talked about concussions and the latest information on its destructiveness to the human brain was eye opening, at least. Tori Belluci was an All-Met soccer player at … She turned down a full scholarship to play soccer in college after she suffered her fifth concussion. It seems unthinkable, but I believe James has already reached the end of his career. He has yet to realize that, imho.

  10. relic says:

    Another thing.. ban 450s. 70 hp on an indoor track??? Open your eyes.

  11. WJF says:

    no good making millions if you can’t count it a few years from now

  12. guu says:

    I should be noted that supercross and motocross now have testing following any hits to the head where the results are compared to a baseline taken before the season. If you don’t pass you don’t race. James Stewart passed this test, so It’s no a 100% proof that you are OK but better they they had at Pastrana’s time.

    BTW. Travis Pastrana, one of the all time talents never won a professional race after the summer of 2001.

  13. Andrus Chesley says:

    Glad to see then stepping up on this concussion thing. I suffered a pretty good concussion years back and vertigo was a major problem that took about two years before I could comfortably ride a bicycle much less my motorcycle.

  14. Scott says:

    “…or go to the movies and watch “Concussion”,…”

    Can’t. It already came and went from the theaters! I must have blinked…

    • Kajun says:

      Considering that it opened in theatres at the end of last year it’s not surprising that you don’t find it at your multiplex. Red Box says they’ll have it for rent at the end of next month.

      • Scott says:

        “End of last year”…

        Yeah, it was six friggin weeks ago! I guess that’s all you get anymore unless you’re Star Wars, or some ridiculous comic-book movie. “Back in my day” any decent movie would stay in the theaters for MONTHS. But they’ve got way too much CRAP to move through theaters on their way to Netflix and Blu-Ray. Can’t waste time!

        Aside from kids’ movies, my wife and I can afford to go to maybe one movie a month. Concussion was on the list, but we missed the cut, apparently.

    • Auphliam says:

      Must’ve blinked? Are you Rip Van Winkle? LOL There were ads for the movie on every media source in the country leading up to its Christmas release. I think I saw more Concussion commercials than toy commercials.

      • Jeremy in TX says:

        I didn’t even know there was a movie called “Concussion.” I guess that’s what happens when Netflix becomes your defacto cable provider and ad-free streaming music and news becomes your radio.

        • mickey says:

          lol…another pup response. I still watch the 3 public stations we watched when I was a kid, 5, 9 and 12. I see lots of commercials…and news (6 pm every night while eating dinner and again at 11 pm before bed). Haven’t listened to music since 1980 lol

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            5, 9 and 12? Are those channels or something? Do channels even go that low? I though they stopped around channel 120 or so. LOL

            Believe it or not, I still remember the public stations coming in through the roof-top antenna, too. I won “Color the Weather” in New Orleans when I was five years-old. I was so proud to see my glorious art work displayed on TV for all the world to see. Saturday morning cartoons, Mutual of Omaha. Had to be in front of the TV at the right time to be able to watch what you wanted or fight over it with your bothers and sisters. Like an animal! We’ve come so far.

          • TimC says:

            “We’ve come so far”

            Devo is right. De-evolution is real.

          • mickey says:

            the guys with the flower pots on their heads?

          • Norm G. says:

            regarding concussions, you must Whip it, Whip it good…

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbt30UnzRWw

  15. mark444 says:

    I don’t follow Supercross, but I know who Bubba is. It takes a REAL Man to know when to limit his lifestyle…..so many others (movie stars, Band members, etc) do not and end up paying a price in the end.

  16. Spiderwatts says:

    Gibbs racing dumped him a couple of years ago because of his lack of dedication, professionalism, and not being a team player. He has floundered since his dismissal and although has shown glimpses of his great riding ability he fails to follow through. Perhaps he really suffered a severe head injury but his track record is poor when any hardships come his way. He has the luxury of having made millions in the past but his focus remains on him and not winning. He should retire or do something else. The Supercross world has plenty of riders with more drive and the phenomenal skills needed to perform at the professional level.

    • Half Baked says:

      Your comments have absolutely nothing to do with this article which is about concussions and the problems suffered by athletes who are exposed to repeated severe head trauma. Regardless of whether you believe Stewart is faking his injury or not it is a real problem and the AMA needs to get out in front of it sooner rather than later.

    • TimC says:

      Yeah, winning the internet, Mr. Spiderwatts is not…sheesh.

  17. Ryan says:

    It seems strange that we have not heard any kind of response from the sports of boxing or MMA where the whole point of the sport is to give the other competitor a concussion.

    • GuzziGuy says:

      UFC’s policy states that in the event of a concussion or any partial or full loss of consciousness, a fighter is put on suspension for three months and you cannot come back until you are cleared by a doctor. The suspension is not just fighting in the ring but also from training.

      Not sure how this help things if you’re getting knocked out a couple times a year but they are very aware and have a clear policy.

      BTW, I’m no fan of UFC. The whole thing is kinda barbaric if you ask me…

      • Dave says:

        These are also fringe sports. Football is in the spotlight because of the vast legions of kids playing little-league through high-school, suffering the same injuries without diagnosis or formal protections.

        It’s a problem in lots of sports. A few years back, professional cyclist Chris Horner was awaken from unconsciousness on the side of the road, put back on his bicycle to race some 40km to the finish of a stage race to save his chances of starting the next day (he didn’t). He didn’t remember riding the last hour when he finished and was clearly suffering symptoms of a significant concussion at the end (repeating the same 4-5 questions over & over) It could have easily been his last day earth.

        • Jeremy in TX says:

          Yes, I’ve seen those kinds of injuries and the complete disregard for the potential severity of them with regularity in almost all of the sports I’ve been involved with: soccer, rugby, motorcycles, mountain biking, football and baseball. Tennis is the only one that I don’t remember anyone experiencing a head injury from. Maybe I just don’t remember a tennis event due to all the head injuries I got from the other sports?

          • GuzziGuy says:

            My doubles partner in college used to bean me in the head with his serve on a regular basis. Don’t tell me tennis is safe! On a more serious note I did see a kid knock himself silly going for a drop shot and then crashing head first into the umpire chair.

    • TF says:

      I had the same thought. All these sports where there is the threat of trauma to the head and all the competitors wear helmets. Conversely, there are sports where the object is to eliminate your opponent by causing trauma to the head……..and no one wears a helmet. Either someone is over-reacting or someone is under-reacting.

  18. MGNorge says:

    Good to hear!