It could have been a heart-breaking sort of Valentine's Day for Lindsey Vonn. That's what Alan Schwarz meant to say in his New York Times article entitled "Concussion Protocols Fail Vonn" about her silver medal race in the world championship on Sunday.
Schwarz is a champion himself of safer protocols following head injury and his extraordinary reporting was recently profiled in the New Yorker and on this blog.
The problem is that Vonn was allowed to ski inspite of clear signals from her that she was not ready and was at risk for severe injury and even death if she were to sustain a new head injury. Not to mention that competing at full tilt-even without any injury-- before complete healing will delay complete recovery, sometimes for months. Lindsey was still "foggy" in her practice runs and admits herself that she was not ready to race. But as Schwarz states:
...the United States Ski Team appeared to hit the trifecta of concussion no-no's:they called the injury mild, blindly followed so-called concussion tests, then discounted clear signs that her injury remained."If an NFL player had been allowed to compete under these circumstances, says Schwarz, "the team (and the league itself) would be roundly flayed for endangering his health--and misleading young athletes about the risks of head injuries."
The lesson here is that anyone in the athlete's midst, starting most importantly with the athlete herself, should be able to trump any protocol, doctor, test or opinion if they believe the athlete is not performing or feeling up to speed. We need to be reminded that even in uber-athletes like Vonn, the brain takes just as much time to recover and can be as unpredictable as in an untrained person. What distinguishes the champion is the ability to perform in spite of sub-par conditions. But that does not make it right.