Jerome Bettis, Dick's Sporting Promote Concussion Tests for Young Athletes

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Divine said athletes who return to play too soon and become reinjured are "at greater risk of post-concussion syndrome, an indefinite time period of headaches and other symptoms, cognitive dysfunction, problems with emotions, behaviors, sleep and many other normal day-to-day activities."

Dr. Aaron Karlin, director of the pediatric concussion management program at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation in New Orleans, likes the tests because, among other things, the results are "easy to show to parents, athletes, coaches, and trainers alike so there is limited argument/discussion."

He said that when athletes' scores quickly return to their normal levels after a head injury, that can be "extremely reassuring for the patient and parent. ... I always say that my job is not to hold these kids out of athletics but rather to get them back as quickly as possible but as safely as possible."

Test Givers, Interpreters Need Specialized Training

Dr. James Bray, a family medicine specialist at Scott & White Healthcare in Georgetown, Texas, and Dr. Jacob Resch, director of the Brain Injury Lab at The University of Texas at Arlington, said the test could be particularly helpful for athletes with learning disabilities, who even at their best might not score in the same ranges as their peers.

Dr. Mark Halstead, director of the Sports Concussion Clinic at Washington University Sports Medicine in St. Louis and team physician for professional, college and high school athletes in the area, said the tests must be properly administered and interpreted. "Whomever purchases the test to use must have a physician or neuropsychologist who is trained in the test," he said. "These tests should not be interpreted by coaches, parents, athletes or any other non-medically trained providers."

Halstead also cautioned that he and his colleagues are starting to see athletes who deliberately "try to do poorly on their baseline test so they can have a better showing after an injury." Although this remains uncommon, he said he feared "it may become more commonplace."

Dr. Jim Grisolia, a neurologist with Scripps Health in San Diego, expressed worry that the intense focus on youngsters' neurological functions could contribute to parental anxiety and the creeping "medicalization" of daily life.

Dick's will donate $1 for each pair of sport shoes bought by Sept. 12 in its stores or online. It is pledging up to $1 million for the PACE program, according to the ad running on ESPN, the Discovery Channel, Food Network, VH1, TLC, BET, Oxygen and Golf Channel. The new campaign includes four YouTube videos, including one with Bettis.

He also is among several pro athletes, including Ali Krieger, a defender on the U.S. Women's National soccer team; Daryl "Moose" Johnston, a former Dallas Cowboys fullback; Brian Mitchell, a former Philadelphia Eagles running back; and Doug Flutie, former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, making in-store appearances and participating in concussion seminars.

The ads began running a day before Dick's was scheduled to issue its second quarter earnings for 2011.

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