As a neuroscience major and a physical therapy aide in the Colorado College training room, I am certainly aware of the danger of concussions. Yet as an individual who has steered clear of participation in contact sports for the entirety of my life, it was not until I read CC Psychology Professor Kristi Erdal’s recent study titled “Neuropsychological Testing for Sports-related Concussion: How Athletes Can Sandbag their Baseline Testing Without Detection”, that the idea of “sandbagging,” or underperforming on a baseline concussion test, ever occurred to me. This, apparently, is not the case for some athletes who are very aware that their score on the baseline concussion test is a significant factor in determining how quickly they can return to play after a significant head injury. In fact, NFL quarterback Peyton Manning admitted in an interview with ESPN last year that he intentionally tried to score lower on the NFL’s baseline concussion tests. It is exactly this danger that prompted Kristi Erdal’s study, the idea for which she initially began formulating as a graduate student.
Erdal explained that “the time following concussion is the most dangerous for likelihood of reinjury (due to incoordination and poor judgment) as well as exacerbation of the metabolic processes post-concussion.”
When asked about the danger of “sandbagging”, she stated, “If athletes knew all the risks, I’d like to think they wouldn’t take the chance.”
The ImPACT neurocognitive battery test is an examination used by medical professionals and athletic trainers to test the severity of a brain trauma and the extent to which an individual has recovered from the trauma. Athletes complete a computerized neurocognitive assessment prior to the beginning of their season, and this score or “baseline” is compared to an athlete’s score on the same exam after a head injury. In Erdal’s recent publication, the first of its kind in the field, she administered the ImPACT test to 75 CC athletes who had completed their athletic careers and asked the athletes to attempt to score more poorly than they had on their baseline without raising any red flags with the built-in validity tests. Fortunately, only eight of the athletes were successfully able to score below their baseline without reaching threshold on the validity indicators, which is a promising sign for the world of contact sports.
While Erdal’s study suggests that the number of athletes who get away with “sandbagging” their baseline examination may be small, it is important that future research attempts to replicate and expand upon her study. In addition, athletes should make themselves aware of the consequences of improper treatment of brain injuries.
In the words of Erdal, “Education is key about the real consequences of concussion. Attitudes are changing nationally about the serious nature of concussion but we’re not fully there yet.”
In reference to CC concussion testing and education, Erdal is optimistic: “I’m sure the system is not perfect yet, but we have always been moving in the right direction.”
Science & Tech Editor