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UNC-CH researcher says 'Concussion' has good, bad impact

Posted December 29, 2015 5:49 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2015 9:28 p.m. EST

— A neuroscientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has studied concussions for more than two decades says a new film about brain injuries and professional football is prompting good discussion of the issue but may create unnecessary paranoia over it as well.

Kevin Guskiewicz said the film "Concussion" is part truth, part fiction in telling the story of a scientist who first linked a degenerative brain condition to the repeated blows to the head football players dish out and receive and then faced down the National Football League over his research. Guskiewicz is a former trainer for the Pittsburgh Steelers who now heads the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center and the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at UNC-Chapel Hill.

"It was very entertaining movie, certainly made for Hollywood," he said Tuesday. "(It's) based on a true story, but they certainly twisted the truth in certain parts of the movie to keep it entertaining."

Guskiewicz has studied and worked with concussed athletes of all levels, from high school to the NFL in hopes of making sports safer. He said there's much that researchers still need to learn about the brain condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

"We have no idea how many people in the United States, or in the world, might have CTE and what the risk factors may be," he said. "There may be genetic predisposition to this that just hasn’t been uncovered yet."

He said he's worried that the film may feed the paranoia that America is in a concussion crisis.

"There are no more concussions on our playing fields today as there were 10 to 15 years ago. It’s simply we know more about them," he said. "More people are showing up in emergency departments and doctors' offices, so it just appears there are more than there used to be."

Guskiewicz has three sons who played football, and none had a concussion. He said he hopes the movie doesn't drive youths off the field of play.

"There are far more benefits to being active participants in sport than there are the risks and consequences around concussions for the millions of kids we’re trying to keep active to prevent childhood obesity and diabetes," he said. "I would say it’s never been safer to play sports than it is today because of the awareness and rules changes that have been made in many sports."

Still, he said, the movie is bringing needed awareness to the issue of concussions and safety.

"One of the things I’m glad has come out of all of this that there has been more attention paid to the issue, and parents have gotten involved," he said. "I think, as a result, we’ll see more parents becoming active participants in decisions about their children and their participation in sports."