Part 2 of Our Interview with Jay Fraga, Founder of The Knockout Project

Interview

January 12, 2015

We first connected with Jay Fraga, founder of The Knockout Project on Twitter. Impressed by his thoughtful approach to the concussion crisis (he believes ignorance is the problem, not sports and focuses on the youth levels), and inspired by his efforts, we reached out to Jay to see if he would share his story on our #HeadOn blog. Below, Jay answers Part Two of our questions in his own words. Read Part One of our interview here.

You say that “Sports aren’t the problem, Ignorance is the problem.” (We couldn’t agree more!) Can you elaborate on that? What do you think is needed to bring “21st century” concussion education (as you guys put it) to the forefront?

"Sports have been vilified from time to time in the media, especially for the concussion conundrum. I’ve heard people advocate for the banning of certain sports, but I don’t think that’s acceptable. Sports have taught me some of the greatest lessons necessary to succeed in life. I never had to work very hard in school to do well, but I also found the linear nature of a lot of that learning to be mundane and it really didn’t resonate with me. It was athletics and competition that got me to understand the ultimate truth: that effort and hard work would result in tangible results when tested. When you do those things and get results, it instills confidence in you. Self-confidence is arguably the most important attribute that one can possess. I mean, if you know at your lowest common denominator that you will persevere through anything- that is an absolutely potent asset. I took that understanding with me throughout my life and applied it everywhere. That attribute is a big reason why I’m here talking to you today. I believe there are a lot of people who benefit from athletics in that manner and to somehow take them away would be a travesty. 

The real problem lies in people, like me at one point, who just didn’t understand what the stakes are: that when you get injured, you need to take care of it. Hiding a concussion is only going to get you further injured and eventually out of sports. We need that message to be read loud and clear and understood by parents, coaches, and athletes alike. And, we need health care providers to be on the same page as far as referring people with prolonged symptoms to legitimate concussion specialists where the majority of the knowledge about these injuries and their aftermath is.

I think the current media cycle about concussions is good and bad. Any awareness is good, but I think people tune things out that they’re tired of hearing about. And, some people are tired of hearing about concussions. That’s why I believe it’s so important to focus the message accurately on the methodologies for identifying, treating, and healing from these injuries."


A lot of the work done by The Knockout Project is focused at the youth & high school sports levels. What do you think will be the biggest stimulus
for sustainable change regarding head injuries at those levels?

"Athletic trainers for all would be a good start. I feel like our kids in youth sports are by far the most vulnerable at this point. Mandatory compliance in concussion education programs for youth sports coaches in some states is a good step, but we need someone on the sidelines who is versed in spotting injury and taking the decision of what to do with those players out of coaches’ hands. Coaches have enough to deal with in terms of game adrenaline without having to act as health care surrogates. Get trainers out there for our kids and good things will follow.

The X-factor, if there is one, is today’s school-age competitors who are being injured in a time when we’ve never known more about concussions. I spoke earlier about one door closing and another one opening. Some of the kids I’ve met on this journey are nothing short of amazing and their experiences with concussions have made an indelible mark on them. Madeline Uretsky is a girl who had to retire from everything in high school, suffered amazingly, and was on a 504 plan for the bulk of her time in school. She’s gone on to college where she’s studying to be a pediatric neurologist. It was virtually the same high school experience for Alicia Jensen. She’s a freshman in college who still suffers incredible symptoms, but is working towards becoming a physical therapist. Alicia spoke at the UN last January about concussions with a panel of all-male pro athletes. You want to see a bunch of guys with Super Bowl rings in awe? She managed to do it. Life goes on.

I feel like there is nobody better to advance change and knowledge about head injuries than the kids who have suffered so greatly in this era where we at least know a little bit about this subject. We know just enough to motivate them to want to learn more. They’re amazing kids and they’re so dedicated. I can’t help but to sit there watching them speak and to think that I’m looking at our next great leaders and facilitators. Knowledge evolves generationally. These kids and many like them are going to be part of the reason for that evolution."



What role do you think technology will play in the diagnosis and treatment of head injuries in sports?

"I love the introduction of impact sensors and I’m not just saying that because that’s what you guys do. I believe that information is power. 

At some point, I’d like to see that impact data extrapolated and quantified e.g. did this hit actually result in a diagnosed concussion? What sort of forces in terms of shear, rotational, and linear were the player’s brain subjected to? It would be amazing to see if we could learn anything from that on a mass scale. My bet is that we would.

I’d like to see more hospitals with Functional MRI or Functional DTI for acute concussion patients who face longer duration cognitive symptoms. If not, then I’d like to see greater and easier access to the units in the few hospitals with them that do exist."

Do you have any tips for individuals going through concussion recovery? What helped you and what hurt you?

"What helped me was finding the right doctors. What hurt me was not finding them quickly enough and having to beat down doors to learn who I needed to see. First, get a good concussion specialist. The Sports Legacy Institute has a great list. Second, if you’re having visual issues, it’s important to see a neurodevelopmental optometrist who is an FCOVD. Click here for a locator. Don’t waste your time or money anywhere else.

Keep a journal. Write down everything: the good, the bad, EVERYTHING. Even if something seems trivial, write it down because you’ll forget it. Then, hit your doctors with it. And, be honest. There is no room for being bashful or not wanting to talk about something when it comes to this. The more information you can give them to go on, the better chance they’ll have to figure you out. 

Be your own biggest advocate. If you don’t feel optimistic about the hands you’re in when you leave a doc’s office, seek another opinion. Doctors don’t have to live in your body; you do.

Finally, never give up. Reach out for help and talk about things. Encourage your caregivers to speak to someone as well. This journey can be a tough one for all involved.

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What do you think is important for parents and athletes, particularly younger athletes, to know before they start playing collision sports?

"Just to be aware that injuries come with the territory and to be vigilant in taking care of them when they happen. For as many athletes and soldiers suffering from concussions that I’ve spoken to, I’ve spoken to an equal number of “regular people” who have suffered them at work or slipping in their driveway. Concussions aren’t just a problem in sports. They’re a problem in life. Anything that we can do to increase our knowledge and treatment of them is a good thing and will pay dividends.
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Is there anything else you think our audience should know?

"I’ll do whatever I can to help someone who is hurt and suffering. If you have a question that I haven’t answered here, send us an email at inbox@theknockoutproject.org. We answer all of them to the best of our abilities. Keep up the fight."