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Q&A with UNCG researcher on changing the stigma of concussion reporting

Two UNC-Greensboro concussion specialists won a $400,000 grant last month from the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense to design a web-based tool geared toward increasing concussion reporting among student athletes.

Staff writer Sam Killenberg spoke with project co-founder Jeff Milroy about how to change attitudes surrounding reporting concussions.

The Daily Tar Heel: How frequently do concussions go unreported in collegiate athletics, and what are the reasons for that?

Jeff Milroy: There are reports that anywhere between 50 and 80 percent of concussions are going unreported ... The big question that we’re asking is why ... It comes down to a lot of the perception that the student athlete ... (is) going to lose their position on the team, or the starting lineup, or the perception that they have that they might let down a teammate. There also could potentially be some masculinity issues, especially for male student athletes and the idea of toughness ... that you’re supposed to be tough, you’re supposed to play through it. It kind of starts to victim-blame a little bit.

DTH: Can you explain your project and how it will attack the stigma with regards to the reporting of concussions?

JM: We’re trying to target normative behaviors or perceptions ... We’re going to target their perceived behavior control, the type of control they think they have to report (concussions), so that they think it’s their role ... And the last thing is specifically designed to change the attitudes and perceptions that the coaches have so that they can then create a more receptive culture to concussion reporting. We’re trying to take all the research that I and many other concussion specialists have done and combine those to create a web-based intervention ... to increase concussion reporting by student-athletes.

DTH: Why have concussions become such a big national issue in the last few years?

JM: We can certainly thank the media for that, and what brings it to the forefront is probably some of the legal back and forth between the NFL and the NFL Players Association ... We’ve known there was risk and dangers related to concussions, but it was just recently sensationalized through the media ... Now other larger organizations like the NFL and the NCAA that are concerned with the health and safety of their athletes want to be a part of that solution.

DTH: How do you plan to involve student athletes and coaches in this process?

JM: The Institute to Promote Athlete Health and Wellness here at UNC-G has been here for three years and it’s become a vehicle for our programming. We have a web-based program that’s called myPlaybook, which targets alcohol and other drug use, as well as other health and wellness areas, within the student-athlete population. It’s being used by the NCAA institutions pretty widely — upwards of 30,000 students are going through myPlaybook this academic year.

We’re also doing what we call a feasibility study. We’re developing the content and structure of each one of those lessons and reaching out to athletic trainers, coaches, sports medicine staff, prevention scientists and concussion experts and trying to get their input. We’ll include student athletes in the process, what they want to see, what kind of interactions they want.

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