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Start of football, soccer = Concussion Season

August 9, 2013 – 7:38 am

By Katie Culver

For many, the start of football and soccer season evokes the excitement of uniforms, new teammates, practices, and games. But doctors and parents endure another sort of anticipation: The arrival of Concussion Season.

Concussions happen in athletics year round, but with the greatest frequency in football, followed by girl’s soccer, according to a 2011 report in the American Journal of Sports Medicine (next are boy’s ice hockey and boys lacrosse).

Research is mixed, but some experts suggest girls are at a greater risk for sustaining a concussion possibly due to weaker neck muscles, smaller head mass — or higher levels of reporting in girls. What is clear: those who suffer a concussion are 3-6 times more likely to sustain another one. And those treated in a hospital are more then twice as likely to have another head injury within 12 months of the first.

This is obviously troubling and there is growing concern about the impact of multiple head injuries on children whose brains are not fully developed. Yes, equipment can be – and is – getting better. Football helmets can have monitoring systems that signal a too-hard hit. Some schools have begun doing “baseline concussion testing” that offers a snapshot of cognitive function for comparison in the event of a head injury.

I sat down to talk concussions with Stephanie Natalie, Certified Athletic Trainer at Premier Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Bryn Mawr, PA. Here’s what she had to say (responses edited for brevity and clarity):


FGN:  Has the number of concussions you treat changed in recent years?

SN:  The number of concussions treated has absolutely increased. The research is so much better and awareness is so much more widespread. The phrases “getting your bell rung” or a “ding to the head” has been deflected by the sports medicine world as people take the injury more seriously. Hearing  ”concussion” or “mild traumatic brain injury,” which is how a concussion is classified, changes people’s perspective. The media has increased awareness especially around professional sports like football and ice hockey. Kids are also more willing to report symptoms because they are concerned about the long-term implications of having a head injury.


FGN: Which sports are the big ones for children getting concussions?

SN: An article published in 2007 in the Journal of Athletic Training compared data from the High School Reporting Information Online and the NCAA Injury Surveillance System across nine sports from 2005-2006. Football far overshadowed the eight other sports studied: boys’ and girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls’ basketball, volleyball, wrestling, baseball, and softball. The next closest sport was girls’ soccer. It’s certainly more likely for kids to sustain concussions in sports classified as “collision” and “contact” sports. But the risk of concussion is present in all activities to varying degrees.

FGN: Does gender factor into concussions?

SN: That same study pointed out that because of the size of the football team and the nature of the game, that boys may look like they are at a higher risk for concussions – but that is based on the game, the players, and their exposure to athletic participation. If you look at sports where both genders participation – like soccer and basketball – girls have a higher rate of injury than boys.

When it comes to treatment, every concussion is unique but the general plan for how athletes are returned to play is the same for males and females. In my experience, I do not see any differences in how we treat concussions based on gender. I also have not seen a huge difference in gender when it comes to reporting — I think the desire to report is more a function of mentality than gender. Unfortunately, the culture of sport encourages kids to play through injuries so many think the same way about a concussion.

TOMORROW: Q&A with mother whose 12-year-old suffered a concussion



New grad says “Lean In” lessons come with playing ball

June 21, 2013 – 3:29 pm

By Ashleigh Sargent

Of course we’re all talking about Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. There’s the public conversation about the gender gap in leadership in the U.S. (and controversy about some messages in Lean In) but as a recent college graduate and a female athlete, Sandberg has me thinking about how tools I gained on the basketball court and in class and can translate to the workplace.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid.

Sandberg says fear is often the biggest barrier to women’s success. Women tend to be more risk averse at work and reluctant to take on challenging tasks. As a result, they never gain key skills to advance – and lead. It doesn’t help that women internalize failure and externalize success — and so may not grab hold of chances they are given. This is where being an athlete helps. I have been coached my whole life to take chances, to push myself, and to be confident in my abilities. We learn to not be afraid to fail – to be proud of our wins, tuned to our weaknesses, and confident in our potential.

Lesson #2: Sit at the table and speak up.

Women must be present in the discussions, debates, or decisions made around them. (Sandberg uses “sitting at the table” to encourage women share their opinions in important decisions.) Speaking makes some worry that they will be perceived critically, but Sandberg argues that we must correct for this by encouraging and promoting more women. I know that as entry-level employees, recent graduates like me struggle with feelings of incompetence, but we must take any opportunity we can to sit at the table. As college athletes, we are trained to be assertive and confident – and to apply our skills to the challenge. We are used to speaking up as part of the team.

Lesson #3: Work together.

Sandberg reminds us of a popular Madeleine Albright quote: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Yes, limited opportunities for leadership look like they should create competition among women for positions. But, she argues, let’s break down stereotypes and barriers so that we increase leadership posts for women – not fight over the few that exist now.  I have a competitive drive as an athlete and want to be my best, but my own success doesn’t mean others can’t be successful, too. I dedicated myself to my college basketball team so that we could together improve and reach our goals. That team-focused mindset is what I hope that I – and my fellow new grads – can bring to the workplace and to the women who are already there.

Mortarboard moment: Sharing advice I got from Gail Marquis, Olympic superstar and Wall Street success

May 10, 2013 – 5:24 am

By Ashleigh Sargent

Gail Marquis is a powerful woman in sports, business, and volunteer foundation work.  She won a silver medal as a part of the 1976 U.S. Women’s Basketball Olympic Team and played basketball professionally in Europe, before taking her competitive drive and spirit to Wall Street where she worked for 25 years. Marquis was recently invited to be on the Council of Advisors for the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) and this year attended the Commission on the Status of Women meetings at the United Nations as one of the Centers’ representatives.

I had the chance to talk to Gail Marquis during her most recent trip to Wellesley about her experiences as an athlete, a businesswoman, and a representative to the United Nations.  I will be graduating from college soon, and she gave me advice about how to take the skills I have gained as a collegiate athlete and apply them.  Here are some of her tips about building connections, expanding your influence, and figuring out where you want to go.

 Network: Let people know who you are and what you want. Don’t just observe what goes on around you. Ask good questions and don’t be afraid to speak up to give your opinion. Share your name when you speak in meetings so that people learn who you are.

Get related: While getting your name out there is helpful, you also have to get related. Don’t just learn people’s names. Figure out their story, their background, and their interests. Find ways that you are somehow related to them because then they will remember you.

Use your platform: Anything can be used as a platform. Nobody is one-dimensional, especially not athletes, so use your voice. The generation of people graduating right now has already started pushing the envelope about social issues and equality. We need to continue to do that.

Hear other viewpoints: Before you can understand your own views about any issue, you have to hear what other people think. Learn why they think differently than you do. This again involves asking good questions to figure out where they come from and what is important to people who are different from you.

Ask for help: Nobody is in a vacuum. You can’t do it on your own. Use the resources around you and don’t be afraid to ask other people to help you. Use the advice you receive and the connections you make to get where you want to go.

Get involved:  Take the experiences you have had and apply them. For athletes, take the desire, dedication, and discipline that you have developed throughout your life and apply it to your future – career, school, family, friends, etc. More women need to get involved in sports as coaches, administrators, or managers.  Women need to speak up for themselves and be proud of their accomplishments.

Good surprise: Final Four basketball not just for top seeds anymore

April 7, 2013 – 8:56 am











By Ashleigh Sargent and Mariah Philips

What does it mean for a #5 seed team like Louisville to be in the Final Four? That favorite Baylor was out early?

Women’s college basketball fans seldom get to watch a regional seed lower than #3 make it to the Final Four. Sure, on the men’s side it’s fun, but not unheard of for teams like Florida Gulf Coast and Harvard, to have surprising success. The women’s side has been more – well – predictable. But that’s changing. It speaks to a deeper pool of talent, to the end of an era in which the same few teams were the only real national contenders.

It may not be exactly a wide-open field, but who saw either California or Louisville coming? Not many. That can only be a good thing for women’s college hoops.

That said, here are our predictions for the two Sunday match-ups.

#5 Louisville v. #2 Cal Berkeley

First of all, a team that beat defending champion Baylor demands immediate respect.  Louisville is a major contender, and given their momentum, we expect them to have yet another upset against the Bears of Cal.  Led by senior Shoni Schimmel, the team is incredibly invested in their own system with unrivalled team chemistry.  However, Cal is a team who has recently come out of the woodwork and is riding the tails of an impressive win-streak.  Led by senior Layshia Clarendon, a Wade Watch Trophy finalist who is averaging 22.5 points this tournament, Cal will not go down without a fight against the Cardinals.

Key Players Louisville: Shoni Schimmel, Sara Hammond, Monique Reid

Key Players Cal: Layshia Clarendon, Gennifer Brandon, Brittany Boyd


#1 UConn v. #1 Notre Dame

UConn and Notre Dame have already faced off three times this year, each one resulting in a win for the Fighting Irish.  History suggests that Notre Dame will take this game, but beating a strong team like UConn four times in a row is a herculean feat.  If all of UConn’s key players meet their potential, they are too strong to be silenced a fourth time.  The Huskies will look to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, and Bria Hartley to lead the way to victory.  This does not mean the Fighting Irish senior Skylar Diggins will give up her shot at a championship title for her last year at Notre Dame.  We expect this to be a close match-up, the winner of which we also predict to win the tournament as a whole.

Key Players UConn: Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley, Breanna Stewart

Key Players Notre Dame: Skylar Diggins, Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa

Our pick to win it all: UConn’s experience combined with their desire to avenge their losses to Notre Dame make UConn our choice to win the national championship. If UConn can overcome the fighting Irish, neither Louisville or Cal will be able to outmatch the Huskies.

Women’s NCAA Bracket: Vote with your pen and then talk about it

March 22, 2013 – 5:31 pm

By Laura Pappano

It’s March Madness and that means one thing: Time to vote with your pen, and rehearse your friendly trash-talking zingers.

The brackets are not just about the games, of course, but about the culture we create around the games. They are about the notice we give to female athletes, the ratings we create when we watch on TV or online, the status we convey when we bother to talk  about the drama in the final seconds of play.

This exercise is about knowing the names and the faces of the women because we certainly will hear about the men. This is about seeing and recognizing the display of moxie by female athletes in big moments. It’s a picture worthy of sharing with children and CEOs.

The women’s game may seem to hardly exist amid the explosion of attention given the men’s tournament.

Yes, many things are getting better. Media sources like The Bleacher Report now handicap the women’s tournament as well as the men’s. President Obama — famous for  his passion for the men’s game — has his women’s brackets all filled out.

But let’s do this — not for charity, but because it’s good play.

I don’t want to hear about problems with “parity” on the women’s side. So what if the same handful of teams are serious Final Four contenders? Look down the rankings be find the comers. There are strong players up and emerging teams worth our attention. Who will spot them first?

So, if you don’t have a bracket — get it here. Fill it out. And then tune in and talk it up.

In quest for equity, sports and combat are sisters

February 4, 2013 – 5:50 am

By Laura Pappano

How perfect that National Girls and Women in Sports Day (who invented this cumbersome name?) arrives as the military prepares to lift it’s ban on women serving in combat.

The barriers that women have faced to such service sound like the battle for equal access and treatment in sport.

How so?

Just step back and consider that the barriers, the arguments against women have focused on three central ideas (the three “I’s”): the presumption of women’s physical inferiority, the perceived immorality of women serving alongside men, and worry that women would be injured.

Drop those three I’s onto sport and those arguments – inferiority, immorality, and injury – have been the rhetoric used to limit and bar women from equal access to competition, whether it was 1970s Little League or ski jumping (finally to be included in the 2014 Olympic games).

In many countries, girls and women still do not have access to regular sports participation. In many urban areas, strapped families do not value or can’t afford to let daughters play sports.

This is not merely a problem of fitness, but of political, social, and economic equity. Sport is not just about play, but about parity.

When President Roosevelt signed the G.I. Bill of Rights on June 22, 1944, the official text of his public statement recognized “service men and women” in the opportunity to resume training and education. Reality looked different. Even women who flew B-26 Marauder medium bombers on service missions could be declared “nonveterans” and made ineligible for benefits. Many in that generation of women didn’t get the government-funded college education they earned.

Women have been serving on the front lines. As the battlefield has become less clearly defined with danger available at most pay grades, it is  time for women to have the same access to assignments and the economic and career benefits that come with combat-level commissions.

There is grumbling. Worries about sexual harassment (immorality) fail to recognize that half  of the assaults are against men. That’s a problem of unacceptable behavior, not of gender. Injury? Unfortunately, women are already getting injured and even dying — alongside men.

The physical inferiority piece is more interesting. It raises questions of physiological differences and the relevant question: What do you really need to be able to do, physically, to perform?

In a recent NYTimes story exploring how military fitness tests will change with the new admission of women, we learn that those are all under review.  But Greg Jacob, former commander of the training school for enlisted Marines at Camp Geiger, N.C. points out that he saw women who couldn’t complete two pull-ups be able to pump out eight in a matter of months, “because they were training to that standard.”

Females have never before trained for combat. Just imagine what it will mean to have women push themselves physically to a new level. Remember the surge in performance following women being allowed to run the marathon?

Come to think of it, equal access to combat may be just the thing to bring women’s athletics to new heights.


Women’s Review of Books is 30 (and more relevant than ever)

January 30, 2013 – 12:15 pm

By Laura Pappano

wrobcover01_01_13In the introduction to the 30th anniversary issue of The Women’s Review of Books, editor Amy Hoffman makes that point that — yes — this many  years later we still need a forum for thoughtful, intellectual, political and passionate conversation about the meaning of gender in the printed, published, word.

As she writes in her message, which is cleverly headlined Now We are Thirty:

Disgracefully, even after forty years of the contemporary women’s movement, feminist scholarship and critical analysis, and women’s creative writing, receive little more attention in the mainstream media in 2013 than they did in 1983. Unlike in 1983, when WRB and our sister publications could cover just about every feminist work that appeared, these days university, small, and even trade publishers are releasing an outpouring of interesting, challenging, original books by women. Yet most of this is ignored by daily newspapers, glossy magazines, and book review publications like the New York Review of Books. When it’s not ignored, it’s often treated fleetingly or dismissively: and the well-deserved prizes and recognition [of] writers like Joan Didion (an NYRB regular), Adrienne Rich (lauded more enthusiastically after her death last year than she often was in life), or Louise Erdrich (winner of this year’s National Book Award) do not mitigate the situation.

I feel lucky to be a contributor to this anniversary issue with a piece, Gym Class Blues, which considers the new book, Active Bodies: A History of Women’s Physical Education in Twentieth-Century America (Oxford 2012) by Bucknell history professor Martha H. Verbrugge.

Feminist scholarship may not be the hot topic of the moment – either in universities or cocktail conversation — but there is no escaping its importance and, yes, relevance. How else do we come to make sense of the past and present?

NWSL seems to be learning from predecessors

January 18, 2013 – 2:16 pm

By Laura Pappano

It’s draft day for the National Women’s Soccer League. Don’t bother turning on your TV or tuning into sports radio.  Don’t expect NFL-style high drama.

Thanks to the rise of cheap media, though, you can catch it on Twitter and Facebook (NWSL doesn’t have its own website).

Sure, there is reason to be nervous about yet another patched-together and rolled-out iteration of women’s pro soccer following failed WUSA and WPS efforts.

But before you dismiss the NWSL as another desperate run at an elusive dream, recognize that they are doing some things very right. Unlike the cliché of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football – failing to recognize that Lucy will always snatch it away – there is a learning curve here that is being honored.

A few observations:

1. It takes time to build an audience. The launch of WUSA on the heels of the spectacular 1999 World Cup victory mistook the groundswell of news coverage and excitement as evidence that women’s pro soccer had a huge audience that wasn’t being served. There is an audience, but it takes time to identify, reach, and commit them to become regular fans. WPS may have folded, but in many places play carried on. It may finally be the right moment: People have at last gotten used to the idea of a women’s pro soccer league sticking around.

2.  Defining the brand – on fewer $$. As a corollary to the above point, WUSA started big with lots of cash, gimmicks, and giveaways (I won a refrigerator at a Breaker’s game). WPS downsized venues and simplified, but still dreamed of big-time corporate dollars (and leaned on that model). We have learned that soccer can matter without foam fingers and pre-game bouncy castles, but it does gain from the high-touch of small venues and players who sign autographs and greet fans. Let the on-field product lead.

3. You need star players.  Whether it’s Broadway or Jeld-Wen Field, fans come to see talent they know. The fact that 55 National Team Players (including all 18 U.S. Gold Medalists) were allocated to the eight teams is critical. That this allocation happened ahead of the draft means that every market will have players who are a draw (granted, some more than others). This is where good media management will matter: teams that can tell the story and build public interest in rising talent will win fans.

4.  Financial structure. This is where the NWSL is playing an essential role, not only for pro soccer, but also for women’s pro sports. It remains unclear in America what an independent, sustainable financial blueprint looks like for women’s pro sports. We know that – post WUSA – corporate dollars are scarce (even for the WNBA). We know (thanks to WPS) that individual owners with too much power can prove catastrophic. Aligning the financial stability of the league with natural allies – in this case governmental soccer federations of the U.S., Mexico, and Canada who need to develop players for their national teams – makes great sense. This synergistic approach may expand fan interest in international competition. The NWSL lets private and corporate sponsorship – which we learned can be fickle – to bear some, not all, of the weight of this developing league. By definition, that’s a more realistic and stable design.

Do we have the stomach for football?

January 12, 2013 – 2:49 pm

By Laura Pappano

News that NFL veteran Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, suffered from degenerative brain disease was hardly a revelation.

We paused, saddened, on Thursday when the National Institutes of Health announced that Seau’s brain revealed evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – the result of absorbing frequent blows to the head.

I love watching this game, but lately, it’s rattling my conscience. Is football becoming like foie gras or fur – with such ugly downsides that consuming feels cruel?

Seau is not the first former NFL player for whom head blows have wrought catastrophic outcomes. Concern has been mounting, not just about concussions, but also about the still-unknown long-term traumatic effects of a game that has grown more violent (tackling has given way to hitting), despite feints at making it safer. For good reason NY Times columnist Joe Nocera last month asked: Should Kids Play Football?

Credit the genius of Bert Bell for the rise of the N.F.L. and a sport that was little more than another college game until the 1960s. There is now no more effectively marketed athletic event in the world.  This prestige has trickled down to every level of play. In athletics, from rec to college, there is football – and there is everything else.

Is football in trouble? This time last year, the Penn State scandal put everyone on notice – especially college presidents – of the risks that come when programs became bigger than the universities they represent. The sheer popularity of a sport had bestowed dangerous power. Starry-eyed presidents were suddenly sobered (or said they were).

This latest news asks a more elemental question of many more of us: Is football simply too dangerous?

It is one thing to cheer knock-outs in boxing and view the brutality of a bull fight (sports some shun as a result). It is another for debilitating assaults to be the dark, delayed underside of a sport that we gather in communities to watch on Friday nights, that we make heroes of the children who play, that we sell to the world and to ourselves as America’s greatest game.



Warm-up playlist: Time to get pumped up without being put down

December 13, 2012 – 4:51 pm

By Ashleigh Sargent and Mariah Philips

Get ready, it’s game day!!!!! As you prepare mentally and physically, you want help getting into your zone.

Which songs pop up on the warm-up playlist? Chances are, messages of female empowerment and gender equality are not major themes in your favorite jams.

In fact, it might be quite the opposite. As two female college athletes, both with a competitive background in basketball, we have ample exposure to the warm-up playlist culture.  Walking into a gym the first thing you hear is music from speakers.  Basketball players like the playlist because it energizes them before competition.

But take a closer listen, and the words dropped into those catchy beats tell a much less motivational story. Most songs that have the type of sound (i.e. heavy bass and fast-paced rhythms) also call for female subordination.  Think of the chart-topping “N****s in Paris” by Jay-Z and Kanye West in “I got that hot b**** in my home. You know how many hot b*****s I own?”

This hardly begs an explanation.  If the music is not completely objectifying women, it’s presenting them as hypersexualized.  Big Sean raps in his song Dance A**, “They pay me respect/they pay me in checks/and if she look good she pay me in sex.”  Women are good for one thing only — or so it seems in these songs.

When players prep for competition, it should be a time to feel strong, not to absorb jabs at their gender. Sure, the songs are catchy – the main requirement of effective pump-up music. But isn’t it time we also paid attention to the message? When people attend college basketball games, they see accomplished and strong athletes. Younger girls aspire to be like them and yet, they watch warm-ups with shouted messages of female inferiority.

We think this needs to stop. We have compiled a playlist of equally motivating songs that include serious messages about equality and empowerment. Yes, it was more challenging than going to the fall-back alternatives, but isn’t it better to get pumped up without being put down?

Anthems to avoid:

Pop That by French Montana

Mercy by Big Sean

N****s in Paris by Jay-Z, Kanye West

Shake Señora by Pitbull

Clique by Big Sean

Dance A** by Big Sean


Instead play these:

Fighter by Christina Aguilera

Stronger by Kelly Clarkson

Gunpowder and Lead by Miranda Lambert

So What by P!nk

Survivor by Destiny’s Child

We are Never Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift