Medical questions

A key feature of a proposed settlement of a head-injury lawsuit against the NCAA is the creation of a $70 million fund to pay for medical evaluations of current and former college players in several sports. The provision raises some sticky medical questions. Here are some of them:

What will the evaluations be looking for?

Players who believe they have suffered sports-related concussions will be checked for conditions including post-concussion syndrome and a devastating incurable brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, that has been diagnosed in several former NFL players who committed suicide. Both conditions can involve headaches, memory and behavior problems, but CTE is more severe and most feared by athletes. Most experts agree CTE can’t be diagnosed until after death, and there is no specific treatment, although some symptoms can be managed with medicine or psychotherapy. Post-concussion syndrome symptoms also can be managed, but diagnosis can be subjective.

Can doctors determine specific head blows caused lingering concussion symptoms?

Testing won’t answer that question, posing a dilemma for players who might want to file lawsuits seeking to definitively link symptoms with NCAA play.

Don’t baseline tests address that issue?

The NCAA doesn’t currently require baseline evaluations. The settlement will mandate them at the start of each season for all players.

Who will do the evaluations?

In the first phase, current and former players will self-report symptoms, including mental troubles and mood and behavior problems. A five-member medical committee will evaluate the self-reported symptoms and determine which players need in-person testing.