Oliver Luck attends President’s youth sports concussions summit - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Oliver Luck attends President’s youth sports concussions summit

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Oliver Luck has continued to gain national acclaim since he arrived in Morgantown in June 2010 to work for his alma mater.

Last week, the West Virginia University athletic director was able to participate in a national effort that aims to make sports safer for millions of children across the United States.

On May 29, Luck was invited by President Barack Obama to participate in the first White House Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit.

“It was a tremendous honor to be invited to participate in something like this, at the White House with the President,” said Luck. “The National Institute of Health was there, some Congressmen were involved in discussions and the NCAA president was there.”

Luck expressed hope that with so many organizations coming together for the cause, progress may soon ramp up.

“It was said (at the summit) that we have learned more about the brain in the last 5 to 10 years than in all of recorded human history,” Luck said. “There is still a lot about the brain we don’t know. There is still research going on, not just in the sports world but in the military world.

“A general with the U.S. Army spoke about the issue it has with concussions, on the battlefield as well as in training exercises.”

Under Luck’s leadership, the Mountaineers gained entrance into the Big 12 Conference which began in the 2012-13 athletic seasons as the Big East Conference, WVU’s former athletic affiliate, was buckling after several conference membership shake-ups.

He is becoming one of the most respected voices in college sports.

In October 2013, Luck was named as one of 13 members of the new selection committee that will decide the four-team NCAA college football playoffs, which begins this fall.

Not only has Luck been a sought-after administrator, but his own athletic background as a quarterback for WVU (1978-81) and the NFL’s Houston Oilers (1982-86) also gives him an additional perspective as an athlete. And he is a father of a professional athlete, Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts. All four of his children have participated in sports, including his two daughters Mary Ellen and Emily, and his youngest son Addison, a soccer player at Morgantown High School.

“There is a lot of discussion focused on the subject, which is very healthy and very good,” Luck said. “It will help all of the sports leaguers determine what the best practices are.”

Local expert speaks

One of the pioneers in brain injury research, particularly in the sports world, is Wheeling attorney Bob Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons did not attend the summit in Washington, but he has been on the forefront of brain injury research for many years. He co-founded the Brain Injury Research Institute. It examines the effects of head trauma and concussions, particularly among former athletes and military veterans.

Fitzsimmons thought the summit could only mean good things for brain injury research.

“If (the summit) brings more awareness, it’s a good thing,” said Fitzsimmons. “But the movement has been out there, it’s just the masses have been growing larger and larger. They’re on the side of the camp that something must be done.

“The fact that the president has done (the summit) shows that he recognizes that it is a serious issue,” he added. “It may help additional facilitation and research. But the research has gone on long before the president’s involvement.”

Fitzsimmons said maybe more than anything else, the summit served as a benchmark to lay out what had already been done.

“The NFL grants that they talked about are ones that were already publicized a year or two ago, when the money was committed,” he said. “I’m not sure what good it does in new things, except for carry the message again.

“There is no limit to how many times you can tell people that if you bang your brain in contact sports, there may be some dire consequences as a result of that. It’s a serious problem in this country.”

Ongoing research

One of Fitzsimmons’ clients was former Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster. Webster’s autopsy was instrumental in furthering early brain injury research.

The Brain Injury Research Institute has autopsied the brains of more than 40 individuals, including former NFL players, WWE wrestlers, professional boxers, college and high school football players as well as military veterans.

Fitzsimmons also is a director of TauMark, a company that owns patent rights to the brain scanning isotope used to detect brain injury.

“Congress is, in large part, responsible for really taking affirmative steps to assure that the people in charge of these contact sports do something,” Fitzsimmons said. “Back in October of 2009, various reps from NFL and research appeared before Congress. They basically threw down the gauntlet and asked ‘What are you going to do?’ and ‘How would you like for us to consider action by Congress if you don’t do something?’

“I think that at that time, (NFL commissioner) Roger Goodell acknowledged that there was a problem and they had to do something.”

Breakthrough coming?

Fitzsimmons said additional studies will produce new findings this summer.

“The data will be enlarged,” he said. “By increasing the data, you increase the accuracy of the findings that are made. The paper has been written and submitted for publication.”

While more is being learned about brain injuries, the promise of a breakthrough has all stakeholders looking now at how best to protect military personnel, children and athletes.

“Any time you’re involved in science and research, you’re excited about breakthroughs,” Fitzsimmons said. “You want the parents to be informed so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to let Johnny play (contact sports).

“Hopefully one of these days, we can come up with some kind of medication, or diet, therapy or treatment that can decrease the progression of the disease, or cure it.”