Oklahoma athletic trainers hope to leverage message of ‘Concussion’ movie



Oklahoma athletic trainers hope to leverage message of ‘Concussion’ movie

CJ Fedor has treated many concussions.

Such is life as an athletic trainer.

But it’s not those kids who motivate him to do whatever he can to increase awareness and prevention of these brain injuries. Rather, it’s the kids who medical professionals like him might never have a chance to help.

“We can get better from concussions,” said Fedor, the sports medicine program manager at McBride Orthopedic Hospital and the president of the Oklahoma Athletic Trainers Association. “We can return athletes to play in most instances, and they can go on with their activities.”

But …

“We have to be aware of when concussions happen and take proper steps.”

Concussions are about to be front and center again. In the years since the NFL acknowledged many ex-players were suffering long-term and heart-rending effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), much has been done. Research has been increased. Protocols have been developed. Lawsuits have been filed.

Now, a movie chronicles the story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, the forensic pathologist who discovered the first case of CTE in former NFL players. “Concussion” explores how his research into the degenerative brain disorder changed sports forever.

Changed it for the better, too.

A movie that hits screens nationwide Christmas Day is already sparking debate and fueling conversation.

Fedor wants to be part of the solution. As the son of a school nurse and a firefighter, looking out the well-being of others is in Fedor’s blood. He became an athletic trainer because he wanted to help kids.

As the athletic trainer at Bishop McGuinness, his afternoons are a flurry of taped ankles and iced body parts. But Fedor knows most athletes in Oklahoma don’t see someone like him regularly if ever.

Two-thirds of high school athletes in our state don’t see a trainer on a weekly basis.

Worse, only about 13 percent of Oklahoma high schools have a full-time trainer. That’s the lowest of any state the nation and far below the highest, Pennsylvania’s 90 percent.

Working with Concussion Connection, a national group with local ties in Oklahoman and co-founder Lauren Long, Fedor and the trainers association want to be a backstop for kids who don’t have a trainer. They pushed state legislation requiring an athlete who suffers a concussion be removed from the game and not allowed to play until cleared by a medical professional. When it passed in 2010, only eight other states had similar legislation.

Fedor, Long and their groups believe it’s time for an update. The science and technology around concussions has changed dramatically, so they are in the beginning stages of drafting new legislation for the Oklahoma House and Senate to consider. After legislation with specific requirements for players, trainers, coaches and administrators regarding concussion management and treatment was defeated a year ago, Fedor said they hadn’t planned another attempt so soon.

“Concussion” changed that.

“It’s probably not the best time,” Fedor said of trying to get a bill passed in this next legislative cycle, “but knowing that the ‘Concussion’ movie was coming out … it’s brought a heightened awareness.”

Fedor hopes a panel discussion after a special screening of the movie Thursday night in Moore inspires future plans. The slate is wide open when it comes to what kind of legislation will be crafted. It could focus on a protocol once an athlete suffers a concussion. It could center on regulations for youth sports below the high school level. It could address concussed students’ eventual return to the classroom and concerns that they are often sent back to school before their brain is healed.

Regardless of what comes of the discussion or the legislation, there is one thing of which Fedor is sure.

“The safety of student-athletes,” he said, “is what we’re advocating.”

The safety of those he cares for and those no one does.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125 or jcarlson@oklahoman.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.