Originally published on The Industry Cosign January 10, 2015
The hot topic in sports these days seems to be concussions, head injuries, and brain trauma. It’s definitely a big problem in football and boxing and it seems to have become a topic of discussion in high school sports as well. With the recent lawsuits from former NFL players suing the league based on the knowledge (or the lack of knowledge based on who you speak to) of head injuries, neurologists are becoming bigger “players” in this discussion.
Dr. Barry Jordan, chief medical officer of the New York State Athletic Commission and a team physician for USA Boxing, talks to The Industry Cosign and discusses his passion for sports and sports medicine, how the NFL is handling the concussion problem, and how the concussion issue is being discussed with more awareness these days.
Congratulations on your recent promotion at Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, NY. Why did you decide to pursue a career in the medical field?
Thank you. I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field for a variety of reasons—but the main reason, as it is for so many others, was to help people. Early on, I knew I wanted to pursue a field within the areas of math and science. I was always interested in how the brain works, and that led me to neurology. Then, as someone who is quite passionate about sports, I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate that into my career. I became particularly interested in traumatic brain injury through my involvement with sports like boxing and football.
In medical school, I first thought of the idea to merge my love of sports and sports medicine with my desire to be a neurologist. At the time, there weren’t any sports neurology programs—in fact, my medical school colleagues laughed at me for the idea!
However, I felt this type of study would be important for the medical field, and I eventually went on to complete the first sports neurology fellowship in the country at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Today, these types of programs are much more common—and I couldn’t be more excited for that.
As a neurologist, what advice would you give to people to have them avoid suffering from head injuries?
The most important advice would be to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or participating in high-velocity sports such as skiing, rollerblading or horseback riding. And of course, it’s also important to wear a seatbelt while driving or riding in a car.
Although wearing a helmet may not necessarily prevent you from getting a concussion, they are important in preventing more serious types of brain injuries, including cerebral contusions, skull fractures, and intracranial hemorrhages.
As the chief medical officer of the New York State Athletic Commission, what is the main scope of your job and what pressures do you face in this role?
As the chief medical officer, I medically supervise all professional boxing within the state of New York. This includes training physicians to working ringside, screening boxers for medical eligibility before they can fight and overseeing the medical services provided to injured boxers.
Boxing is a dangerous sport and one of the major challenges is trying to make it as safe as possible. Although we’ll never be able to make it 100 percent safe, there are strategies that are useful in limiting potential brain injury among its participants.
In New York, we as medical professionals have the option to terminate a bout when it becomes medically necessary. Knowing when it’s the appropriate time to make this call can also be a challenging part of the job. Probably the toughest part is having to retire an athlete from the sport when it’s no longer medically safe for him or her to play—no matter how many years I’m in this field, that’s always difficult.
Outside of the obvious reasons of pending brain damage, why do you think that concussions are being more scrutinized in sports and do you feel that there was knowledge previously about the dangers being talked about today but never discussed years ago?