The University of New Haven was way ahead of its college peers when in 2013 it became the first to use Triax Technologies headband collision sensors during athletic competition.
Three years later, protecting — or trying to protect athletes from concussion symptoms during sporting events — is a trendy topic.
Part of that trend has clearly been the attention that concussion and head injuries have received in well-publicized National Football League cases — and lawsuits by former players and/or relatives of players who have died, in some cases, from the aftereffects of head injuries incurred during their playing days.
And the issue has gotten even more attention with the release of the popular movie Concussion, starring Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who fought against efforts by the NFL to suppress his research on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) brain damage suffered by professional football players.
At UNH though, being trendy has nothing to do with what’s going on at both the football and soccer fields.
“When we first started with the sensors,” said Deborah Chin, UNH’s associate vice president and director of athletics and recreation, “we felt that anything we could do to protect the health of our student athletes was a good thing. We feel the same way today.”
The university’s sports medicine team coordinated the program with the team physician, who subsequently consulted with a concussion specialist.
All agreed the data they were receiving helped identify concussions that previously may have gone unnoticed, Chin said. She emphasized that sensors don’t make a diagnosis — but they do identify athletes to examine for symptoms.
UNH is now using what Chin refers to as the second generation of sensors, which she says are far superior to the ones that were first used in 2013.
“Back then we used to have the sensors hooked-up to laptops on the sidelines,’’ she said. “It wasn’t pretty when it rained. These days, all the sensors report directly to smartphones.”
The sensors are produced by Norwalk-based Triax Technologies, which employs 13. The company produced a smartphone app as well, and offers packages for teams or organizations, and also for parents of individual athletes.
When UNH started with the sensors they were used in football, men’s and women’s soccer, basketball and lacrosse, according to Chin. But today they are used strictly in football and soccer, Chin said, “Because that’s where we found they were of most use.”
The discussion about concussion protocol has moved front and center into the General Assembly in recent days.
The legislature’s Children’s and Public Health Committees are reviewing two pieces of legislation related to concussions.
The first, introduced by the Public Health Committee, adds physical therapists to the list of health care professional who may clear a student athlete who had suffered from a concussion. Another introduced by the Children’s Committee would require operators of youth athletic activities utilizing public athletic fields to follow concussion protocols substantially similar to those currently used for intramural and interscholastic athletic activities. The Children’s Committee approved that bill Thursday on a 7-4 vote. There has been no vote yet on the Public Health bill.
Legislators at the Children’s Committee hearing on the topic worried that enacting concussion protection legislation at a younger sporting age level might discourage people from volunteering to be youth coaches because of concern over liability issues.
But Chin dismissed that notion.
“You can’t be worried about being sued if you are doing the right thing,” Chin said, adding that “There is also an assumption that you are participating in a sport at your own risk. As long as coaches are acting in the kid’s best interest, there should be no fear.”
Chad Hollingsworth, co-founder and president of Triax Technologies, isn’t surprised that Connecticut legislators are discussing the impact of concussions at the youth sports level.
“We’ve seen a big surge of interest in our product in the youth market,” Hollingsworth said. “What people don’t realize is how affordable and easy the technology is to use. All you need is a smartphone and you are good to go.”
Hollingsworth said a lot of his customers aren’t coaches from the youth teams but parents of the players on the teams, who keep close tabs on their kids from the sidelines by using their smartphones.
Children’s Committee Co-Chair Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said in her own research on concussions she was surprised to learn that “neither of the Mannings (Peyton and Eli) or Tom Brady” played youth football because, she said, their parents had concerns about the dangers of the sport.
“We focus our concussion research on the NFL when we should focus on the youngest who could actually die from these injuries,” Urban said.