Billy Conaty spent nine years playing in the NFL in the late 1990s through the 2000s, most of it with the Buffalo Bills. Following his playing career, the offensive lineman attended Rutgers University School of Law and is now an associate at Philadelphia-based Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads LLP. He is also president of Conaty Sports Management, which handles contract negotiations, financial planning and marketing for NFL players.
Conaty co-presented "The Athletic Trainer & The Law" at NATA 2011 in New Orleans June 20, and urged his audience of athletic trainers to be vigilant when assessing a player for head injury. Football players, in particular, may downplay or disguise concussion in order to stay on the field, Conaty said.
"This could be their last chance to play, ever," said Conaty of the competitive selection process and notoriously brief careers associated with pro football. "Players can disguise [concussions]. They know what they're doing." Some players are even turning to Ritalin® to mask post-concussion symptoms, said Conaty, leading many to dub the drug the "HGH of sports concussion testing."
As such, the onus will rest on the athletic trainer and medical staff to be observant during sideline assessments and return-to-play decisions. Missing a concussion can have disastrous effects.
In California, an athletic trainer was found liable after failing to diagnose a concussion. The player subsequently fell, leading to injury and a "substantial recovery," according to Conaty. A similar case happened in Tennessee, in which an athletic trainer failed to report a concussion to the team physician.
And in Wisconsin, a player died after sustaining second-impact syndrome, a serious emergency in which a second concussion strikes before the symptoms of the first have subsided. While the university and the athletic trainer were ultimately absolved in that case, "at what cost?" Conaty asked. "You do not want to drag your university into court" over this issue, he said, as it could jeopardize the trust that parents and players place in the coaching and medical staff of the university the student attends.
Conaty urged his audience to build that trust between themselves and their players. "If you like and trust someone, they're more likely to be truthful with you, and disclose" their true injury status, he said. More states are beginning to standardize and legislate diagnosis and treatment protocols.