Flogged Marvin Lewis Right About 'Lingering' Concussions and the Media

Flogged Marvin Lewis Right About 'Lingering' Concussions and the Media

“Ignorant,” “moron,” and “idiot” read as a few of the printable words applied to Cincinnati Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis in the wake of his “lingering” concussions comment. But newly-published scientific researched actually supports the coach rather than his critics.  

“I coached defense and linebackers for a long time and concussions didn’t linger,” Lewis explained on Wednesday in response to a question about controversial Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. “Now we’ve found that because of the media and things they seem to linger longer. There’s a lot of attention paid to it. I don’t know why they linger longer, but I don’t remember them lingering like they do now.”

“Contextual factors can influence a patient’s expectations for recovery following a concussion, including explicit or implicit messages from the media, healthcare providers and systems of care, and the forensic arena,” reads new research published in Psychological Injury and Law by Rodney D. Vandenploeg, Heather D. Belanger, and Paul M. Kaufmann. “This article discusses these factors as nocebo effects, that is, various inherently ‘inert’ factors may create negative expectancies for recovery and therefore impede a given patient’s progress and recovery.” The authors focus on media sensationalism, alongside litigation, as a factor contributing to patients attributing imagined or unrelated symptoms to earlier concussions.

Whether the NFL’s second-longest-tenured coach spoke from experience or from reading the academic literature isn’t certain. Clearly, his detractors haven’t read the research.

It’s not just that the academic article buttresses Lewis’s much-maligned observation that concussions “linger longer.” The scientists, like Lewis, also blame the media for contributing to the “nocebo” effect that convinces concussion victims that symptoms persist long after the medical literature suggests that they would. “The importance of the media message effects described above cannot be minimized,” the trio write. “If providers convey similar messages of negative expectation, symptoms may increase and cognitive performance decrease as a result.”

NFL Players Association President Eric Winston tweeted out and meted out, however obliquely, particularly caustic assessments of the veteran coach. 

But the science goes further than Lewis ever did in casting doubt on “lingering” concussions. “For symptomatic patients presenting in a chronic timeframe (several months to years following a concussion),” Vandenploeg, Belanger, and Kaufmann conclude, “the research literature suggests that there is no reason for healthcare providers to attribute the reported symptoms to the remote concussion, even if patients attribute their symptoms to that TBI [traumatic brain injury].”


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