Labeling a concussion “mild” the day after the injury teaches coaches, parents, and athletes a dangerous lesson
(BOSTON) – The Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF) is calling on the New York Yankees to retract and correct their July 5 statement that Masahiro Tanaka had a “mild concussion” after being struck in the head by a 112 mph line drive on July 4. It is medically inappropriate to label a concussion “mild” or “severe” until the individual has fully recovered from the injury.
“The science is clear that initial concussion symptoms do not always correlate with overall concussion severity,” said Robert Cantu, M.D., Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder and medical director. “Labeling a concussion ‘mild’ just one day after the injury is not appropriate and sets the wrong example for coaches, parents, and athletes.”
“Teams need to recognize when they tell the player, the team, and their fans a concussion is mild, it puts undue public and private pressure on the athlete to return quickly,” said Chris Nowinski, Ph.D., Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder and CEO, whose own WWE career was ended by a concussion initially thought to be mild. “Athletes in this position feel pressured to ignore or cover up lingering symptoms to meet the expectations of their coach and team. It’s bad enough to put Masahiro Tanaka in this position, but I’m more worried about the high school and youth athletes who will suffer when their coach follows the example set by the New York Yankees.”
The New York Yankees have made this harmful mistake before. When outfielder Clint Frazier ran into a wall in 2018 spring training he was also diagnosed with a “mild concussion.” We now know Frazier actually suffered a severe concussion and could not return for months, ultimately playing only 15 games that season due to persistent symptoms. By calling the concussion mild, the Yankees set an unfair expectation for a fast recovery. That expectation may have contributed to a member of the media saying, “Shame on Clint Frazier for not getting healthy,” which forced Frazier to defend himself on social media.
A decade ago it was common practice to label a concussion mild, moderate or severe based on an athlete’s symptoms at the time of the injury, but now concussion experts and most coaches no longer use those labels until after the athlete has recovered and the injury can be viewed retrospectively. For example, in 2011 Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told the media Sidney Crosby had "a mild concussion." Crosby could not play again for another 10 months. In a 2019 story, Bylsma said, “I have said to numerous people, never use those words again.”
CLF urges members of the sports media not to repeat a coach or spokesperson’s incorrect immediate diagnosis of the severity of a concussion without adding the appropriate context. Not labeling a concussion as mild before recovery is one of the 22 Do's for Covering Concussions that comprise the CLF Media Project, which aims to keep sports media professionals up to date on the fast-moving science of concussions and teach them how to cover concussions accurately and with confidence.
Nearly 100 sports media professionals have taken CLF’s Concussion Reporting Certification, including prominent baseball broadcast voices Brian Anderson, Bob Costas, and Jason Benetti. CLF has also taught their Concussion Reporting Workshop at some of the nation’s top sports journalism programs, including the University of Missouri, Northwestern University, and Syracuse University. Most coaches, parents, and children have never received formal concussion education. Sports media professionals trained on accurate concussion reporting not only become more insightful reporters, but they become the public health messengers we need to protect youth athletes.
Sports media members can learn all our concussion reporting lessons by taking our Concussion Reporting Certification here: https://clfmediaproject.typeform.com/to/c9rpsT.