Monday, October 28, 2013

Keselowski Needs His Head Examined

When NASCAR finally announced last week that it will require concussion baseline testing for all drivers prior to the start of the 2014 season, it met with a great deal of support from drivers.    

By making the tests mandatory, NASCAR joins virtually every other professional sport, college and high school programs and even many little leagues.  IndyCar and sports car racing have long required the testing.

“If you care about your well-being and your health and quality of life, it’s a smart move to embrace,” said Dale Earnhardt, Jr.  It was Earnhardt who brought the question of concussion testing to the forefront in NASCAR last year after he ran several races with concussion-like symptoms that he kept to himself.  Only after getting his bell rung a second time did he bring it to the attention of a doctor, who sidelined Earnhardt for two races, eliminating any chance he might have had in the Chase.

But not everyone agrees with Earnhardt.  One voice in particular has stood out against the testing and it’s a loud one, defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

"Doctors don't understand our sport," Keselowski said.  "They never have and they never will. Doctors aren't risk takers. We are. That's what makes our sport what it is and when you get doctors involved, you water down our sport. I'm trying to be open-minded to the possibility that they can help us, but past experience says no."

Keselowski has been criticized in the past by some of peers for being a little too outspoken at times.  I’ve defended him in those instances, but not this time.  Keselowski needs to have his head examined.

In some ways Keselowski does have a point.  The science of baseline testing is far from fool proof.  NFL players have talked openly of gaming the tests, dumbing down their response times and other factors to make it easier to pass during a game.  And the tests are open to interpretation by the administrator. 

It remains to be seen how NASCAR will handle the at-track testing if needed during a race or practice session.  To do it right, there should be one person responsible for the testing that remains consistent from track to track throughout the season.   But unlike IndyCar and Formula One, NASCAR does not have a dedicated safety team.  Each track is responsible for supplying the safety crew.  Let’s hope they make an exception for concussion testing.   

Keselowski also tweeted “my health = my responsibility.”  What he doesn’t seem to understand is that the doctors are worried about more than just his health.  They’re also worried about the safety of the other 42 drivers sharing a track at 200 mph with someone suffering from a concussion that may impair their judgment. 

Earnhardt, who gave Keselowski his first big break in NASCAR, just shakes his head when told of his friend’s reaction.   

“I don’t understand any concerns like that. Going through what I went through I don’t understand that.  I think that you have to know how the test is taken and how the test is scored and how you are evaluated in the retest. It’s not two plus two equals four and ‘oh well you chose three you are out.’  There is no right or wrong answers…when I was concussed, my grade was dramatically lower, not just a few points.  It’s not a guess for a doctor when they see an individual that is concussed on the test results.  There is no gray area.”

Dale's right.  Come on Brad, take the test.  It's a no brainer.

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