Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Day 8 - Dublin, Ireland

Meeting with Jack Golden

Today in Dublin I met with Jack Golden, Group HR Director at CRH plc, which engages in the manufacture and distribution of building materials. Jack recently came on board as a trustee of Eisenhower Fellowships. It is easy to see why – EF is about developing leaders, and Jack is a former engineer who is now the head of HR for a company with 77,000 employees. We had a terrific discussion about how he identifies leaders (passion, capacity, skills, etc.) and how the he and the company look to provide them with the experiences needed to continue to grow. I don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about the type of processes he described, so it was very worthwhile.

That evening Nicole and I were picked up by Trinity College American Football Coach Danny O’Callaghan to go see a professional soccer game between the Shamrock Rovers F.C. and the Bohemian F.C., aka the Gypsies. Danny is a big fan of the Rovers and actually part owner of the team as the fans bought it a few years back after it went bankrupt. We’ve all heard stories about soccer hooligans, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Things are so bad between these two teams that the fans of the Bohemians are marched into the stadium by the police as a single group through a separate entrance to the arena on the opposite end of the stadium from the home fans.

The away fans entrance just happened to be by the door to the hotel bar where the Rovers fans pregame, so when we walked out 10 minutes to game time, I was hit by a surge of adrenaline when I saw two mobs of men yelling at each other and separated by about 40 cops with barking German Shepherds and mounted police that were actually using their horses to push fans around. We were about 5 seconds from a full riot as some kids hopped the first of two fences separating the group, but that was put to a quick halt by a group of what looked like SWAT teamers in all black that were aggressive with two hand shivers to the chests of the jumpers. The moment passed, and once we got in the stadium, I saw we were safe because the Bohemian fans were surrounded by a netting meant to snare anyone trying to make their way onto the field or out of their corner. Wild.

The game itself, which was almost a sideshow to the singing and chanting and wanker-calling, was a 1-0 stalemate that that Rovers won. I was treated to two head to head collisions on headers that left players on the ground rolling around in pain. The first popped up after 30 seconds and kept playing, and was never evaluated. The second was down longer, giving the team physio (athletic trainer) a chance to get on the field. He spoke to the player as he kept blinking and squinting his eyes – in my book, the universal sign for “I see two of everything.” My heart rose when he started walking to the sideline – are they going to assess him? Or just pull him out? Nope. He got to the sideline, had a 3 second exchange with the coach, and jogged back onto the field. We have some work to do here.

Day 9

Meeting the GPA

My first meeting of the day was with Dessie Farrell, the chief executive of the Gaelic Players Association. The GPA is a new organization and one if a very curious position – the Gaelic Athletic Association is an amateur organization by charter that controls the national sports of hurling and Gaelic football, yet they hold their championships is 80,000 seat Corke Park and players play into their 20’s and 30’s. The players are unpaid and receive no benefits, although employees in the GAA office receive handsome salaries, or so I read in an editorial in the paper. The only benefit the players get is unofficial but sophisticated job placement support.

The GPA fought for years for recognition to battle for simple things like health care for on-the-field injuries and career transitioning. Dessie is a former superstar for the Dublin team and well recognized around town. When I shared with him our work, he was blown away – he had heard bits and pieces of the CTE story, but never the full picture. He pledged his support to the cause and immediately got on the phone to get a hold of his medical advisors to discuss it.

Dr. Eanna Falvey

Dessie is also a heck of a guy and had his driver take me to my next meeting at the Santry Sports Clinic, a beautiful facility near the airport. I met with Dr. Eanna Falvey, the senior team doctor for the Ireland Rugby Team. Dr. Falvey is a former champion boxer, so you can imagine his interest in and awareness of CTE. We had a terrific discussion about his opinion of the state of the union. He asked my opinion on the proverbial ‘tough doctor call’ of a star player in a contract year in the 4th quarter of a big game who develops the mildest of concussion symptoms and wants to keep playing. What’s a doc to do, knowing pulling him out could cost the player and his family millions? (or in rugby, hundreds of thousands). I brought up the concept of informed consent – although I’m still considering this idea, perhaps in those rare situations the millions could be worth more than then brain cells…

I know it is sacrilegious to discuss that these days, but consider we let firefighters voluntarily run into burning buildings for much less money than athletes because they know the risk and take wise precautions to minimize risk. We know that mining and commercial fishing are dangerous, but we let people do those jobs too.

The key with concussions, however is that you’d have to ask the player BEFORE they are concussed, as we know they have a malfunctioning brain while concussed and cannot give consent then. And on the other side, we could not let every player sign a waiver to ask to play through concussion, as that would create a game where athletes would be pressured by management and competition for jobs to sign the waiver, and we’d be back to square one where no one could report a concussion.

Could you imagine a future with a “Big Game” concussion waiver? “Welcome to Super Bowl LXX! Tonight both teams’ starting quarterback have signed their concussion waiver! Last man standing wins!!!!” Hmmmm, maybe it’s not a great policy on paper. I’ll tell you this – I’m glad I’m not a team doctor, as this stuff is not always black and white.

Advanced Concussion Training with Trinity College American Football Coaches

Finally, I ended the day presenting to Danny O’Callaghan and the coaches of the Trinity College American Football team. They secured a classroom and I went through the full SLI Advanced Concussion Training that Dr. Cantu and I put together. They were blown away and very appreciative. Head coach Darrin O’Toole is the technical director of the Irish American Football Coaches Association and plays a big role in the international American football coaching world, and I am hopeful good things will come of this newfound friendship. Following the meeting we explored the pubs of Dublin looking for the best pint of Guinness. Note to self – end every meeting that way.

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