Concussions not a death sentence for athletes

UM expert to present insight at SXSW festival

Every March, the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas becomes the epicenter of hip. At first glance, a neurology presentation doesn’t fit alongside the bands, innovative documentaries, and showcases of transformational technologies. Actually, at second glance it doesn’t either!Dejected

This is exactly why I’m partnering with Super Bowl champion and brain trauma patient advocate Ben Utecht to bring some sports neurology to SXSW. Ben is an accomplished musician and entertainer as well, so I’m hoping he can bring the hip.

Ben and I will be joined by New York Times sports contributor and Michigan State University sports journalism professor, Joanne Gerstner. Together, we hope to use the incredible social reach of SXSW to bring a well-measured, yet passionate, conversation about sports concussion to the masses. Our panel discussion “Does Playing Sports Equal Brain Damage” will be Friday, March 13, at 5 p.m. CT.

We are also jumping right into the spirit of SXSW by hosting a TwitterChat on the same day, 3-4 p.m. EST on my Twitter account, @JeffKutcherMD. I’ve also asked other national-level sports neurologists to help us answer questions and add to this truly global conversation. Being at SXSW will allow us to bring these issues to the public in a unique, and admittedly unconventional, way.

Having a balanced discussion about this issue is critical. The 24-hour news cycle is filled with stories designed to tug at heart strings, incite action, and promote individual causes. What has been sorely missing, however, is a more critical conversation, one that involves science in equal part with passion.

In short, it’s time we stopped pounding our fists on tables and started listening, and thinking, with a broader sense of purpose.

This is what Ben, Joanne, and I hope to do. Ben’s perspective as a former professional contact sport athlete, and advocate for change, is critically important. I will try to frame the conversation not only by discussing what we do or do not know from science, but how neurological principles can be employed to help improve the neurological health of athletes at all levels. Joanne, the professional communicator, will help us stay on track and get our points across efficiently.

Concussions are not a death sentence for athletes, they do not automatically lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) or depression or suicide, and most of those who are concussed recover fully and can return to playing their sport safely, if they receive the appropriate medical care. Certainly, concussions and associated after-effects such as Post Concussion Syndromes (PCS) can be extremely challenging to deal with and are incredibly important health issues. At the same time, playing sports is an essential human experience, the power of which should not be discarded as an afterthought.

Having an intelligent conversation on sports concussion is nearly impossible these days, as pop-culture hysteria commands the media spotlight.

We hope to change that, starting this Friday.  Wish us luck!


Take the next step:

  • Join Dr. Kutcher’s discussion on Twitter by following him @JeffKutcherMD
  • Schedule an appointment with a University of Michigan concussion specialist here
  • Take a free Michigan Neurosport concussion education training module here.


HS_150x150_BLOG.fwThe University of Michigan is one of only a handful of comprehensive programs in the country dedicated to the neurological concerns of athletes. By drawing on the resources in the health system as well as the rich athletic tradition of a historic NCAA program, we specialize in the treatment and prevention of neurological sports injuries, as well as the management of primary neurological diseases that affect athletic performance. www.uofmhealth.org/neurosport


kutcher boiler.fwJeffrey Kutcher, M.D., a sports neurologist, heads the U-M NeuroSport clinic and is an associate professor of neurology at the U-M Medical School. He has earned a worldwide reputation for sports neurology. He’s a team physician for U-M Athletics, and co-led the development of the American Academy of Neurology’s new concussion guidelines. Kutcher also serves as team neurologist for the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association and was Team USA’s neurologist at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games.