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Matt Hasselbeck, Former Teammate try to Shine Light on Head Injuries

Posted Feb 11, 2013

NEW ORLEANS — Matt Hasselbeck and Isaiah Kacyvenski have become teammates again.

Hasselbeck, who is preparing for his third season with the Tennessee Titans, teamed with Kacyvenski for all or part of six seasons in Seattle. They instantly connected and were captains who helped lead the Seahawks to Super Bowl XL.

The friends reconnected in the week leading up to Super Bowl XLVII to make the rounds on Radio Row and promote a product that they hope helps athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, doctors and even parents by providing an initial indicator that an athlete may have suffered an intense hit to the head and need further examination before returning to play.

The product is called CheckLight and is scheduled for release this spring. The CheckLight is a development by MC10, which makes high-performance technologies less invasive, and Reebok. The CheckLight will have a green light, a yellow light and a red light embedded into a skull cap made by Reebok that football players and athletes from other sports like hockey and lacrosse can wear under their helmets. There are also plans to imbed the technology in headbands for other sports such as basketball and soccer.

The light is designed to turn from green to yellow after a moderate impact and to red after a more severe impact. The product will essentially be another set of eyes on the sideline to assist diagnosis and “put the athlete on a pathway to be assessed,” Kacyvenski said.

The rapidity of the game, the number of players involved in every play, occasional sightline obstructions and the personal pride of the athlete have presented challenges to early detection of concussions, Kacyvenski and Hasselbeck said.

“I like the idea of the CheckLight being able to start the conversation because it’s always the hardest part when you’re talking about head traumas,” Kacyvenski said. “The player just kind of sits by himself, kind of holds it inside and may or may not get to the sidelines to have the opportunity (to get looked at). Once they are on the sidelines, and you go through this protocol already in place in the NFL, the NHL, youth leagues, whatever, the player, still has to, if he has symptoms, admit it. That’s a problem all in itself, so that’s obviously what we’re dealing with. What we’re trying to do is start that conversation.”

Kacyvenski, MC10’s Director of Sports Segment Licensing and Business Development, sustained seven diagnosed concussions during his eight-year career in the NFL. There were other times when he experienced symptoms but remained silent.

“My last two happened within two weeks of each other in my second-to-last year of playing,” Kacyvenski said. “They were both really scary points in my life. When I say, ‘diagnosed,’ those are the ones where I couldn’t hide it. I really couldn’t function on the field. I couldn’t protect myself. Those are the ones where I had to fess up and say something.”

Kacyvenski hopes to change that attitude in the minds of future players. He said he’ll support his 9-year-old son continuing to play football because he believes the game instilled in him the hard work and perseverance that helped him graduate from Harvard and Harvard Business School, but wants to improve the safety of the game.

Hasselbeck said he was excited when Kacyvenski called him about a year ago to see if he would be on the football advisory board for CheckLight because he thinks it will contribute significant information in trying to solve a complicated problem.

Hasselbeck said the misconception that taking a break for water was a “sign of weakness” during his father’s pro football career resulted from bad information but has been corrected by science. He’s hoping increased information will help with concussion prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

“Now we know that hydration is not only safer but helps recovery,” Hasselbeck said. “Here (at the Titans) we do a great job of immediately after practice is over, everybody gets some sort of nutrients in their body, whether it’s a protein shake or a Gatorade.”

He said he is seeing a shift in the way that concussions are approached and more deeply respected through initiatives of the NFL and NFL Players Association. The NFL also launched a long-term partnership with the U.S. Army to share information about detection and treatment of traumatic brain injuries (click here to read about the trip that Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and Rusty Smith made last fall to Fort Campbell’s Traumatic Brain Injury Warrior Resiliency and Recovery Center).

“I think the last few years the NFL and NFL Players have done a nice job of starting to change the culture where it’s OK to tell the truth to the doctors about how your head is feeling or it’s OK to sort of whistleblow on your buddy to the doctor if you know that something is not right with your teammate,” Hasselbeck said. “We’ve done a nice job there. I think we’ve also done a nice job of putting in place hurdles for guys to overcome to get back on the field. For example, if you’ve got a concussion on Sunday, you don’t automatically get to practice Wednesday if you say, ‘Yeah, I’m good.’ They’ve taken it out of the player’s hands, so to speak, and now you have to be symptom-free before you’re allowed to practice again.

“You have to be cleared by the doctor,” Hasselbeck continued. “You have to pass a stress test, which is typically a 10-minute workout on a bike and prove that your symptoms don’t get worse. Those are good, positive changes that have been made recently, but what we have not done a good job of is using technology to help the doctors and medical professionals. We’ve got this awesome array of technology at our fingertips that we’re using for other things but we’re not using it to the fullest in sports in my opinion.”

Hasselbeck said he suffered his first concussion in third grade while ice skating. His most recent one occurred during the 2009 season and said the observation was extensive.

“They sent a questionnaire home with my wife and they also quizzed the quarterbacks coach and the quarterbacks, ‘Hey, how has he been acting? Has he been short-tempered? Has he been quiet? Has he been irritable?’ All these different things,” Hasselbeck said. “That’s the best indication that you are back. I was passing the other tests, and I’ve been very fortunate with that.”

Kacyvenski and Hasselbeck said the goal is to continue the improvements for all athletes.

“We’re probably not going to know the answer to these questions in my lifetime,” Hasselbeck said. “My hope, and I think the hope of the leadership of the NFL and NFL Players is that we would do our part to gather as much information, be as honest as possible to the medical community, and by setting an example, we would make all sports safer for future generations.”

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