The New York Times published a report last month that criticized and questionedyears of concussion data the National Football League has put forward as comprehensive, independent research. The NFL promptly fired backwith a point-by-point rebuttal while asking for a retraction and threatening legal action.
The National Hockey League found itself back in the concussion spotlighta few days later, when a Minnesota judge made public scandalous internal NHL emails related to the concussion lawsuit filed by former hockey players.
While the debate about player safety and legal liability in high-impact sports rages across the country, it's interesting to note that the discussion is at least a century old and the most prominent voice once called Rochester home.
In an Oct. 27, 1916, article published in "The Post & Record" newspaper — a precursor to the Post-Bulletin — Dr. Charles Mayo, co-founder of the Mayo Clinic, went on record denying that "men die in prime of life from after-effects of college athletics."
"All erroneous and untrue," Dr. Mayo said when asked about the adverse health impacts of college football and baseball. "It is a fallacy to say, when business men who were prominent athletes in college die in the prime of life, that athletics really killed them. There is nothing further from the truth.
"I am not afraid to have my boy either a halfback or a second baseman, or any other position on the eleven or the nine."
Dr. Mayo was one of the most authoritative medical voices of his time. In addition to his personal connection to the Mayo Clinic, he was speaking as the retiring president of Clinical Congress of North America and the president-elect of the American Medical Association.
The comments were made while Dr. Mayo was attending a health convention in Philadelphia — but he quickly added a few clarifiers that still resonate with many of Mayo Clinic's most prominent voices to this day.
"Just because we have a few deaths from these sports in the institutions of the country a great hue and cry goes forth," Dr. Mayo said. "The essence of the fact is that there are just as many children (who) die in country homes as give their lives on the college gridiron or the baseball field.
"But baseball and football, under competent trainers and instruction, is a splendid thing for the young, and rather than see these sports curtailed I would have them extended to the smallest institution with provision in these smaller colleges for suitable instructors and worthy trainers."
In response to some controversial calls to ban high-impact sports last fall, Dr. Jonathan Finnoff, medical director of Mayo Clinic Square in Minneapolis, and Dr. Michael Stuart, director of Mayo Clinic's Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, both said they feel the benefits of athletic participation are worth the risk of head trauma. However, both also feel it's important to identify and implement ways to mitigate the potential health risks, which include early death.
Dr. Stuart reiterated that stance last week after reviewing Dr. Mayo's century-old medical opinion, which remains a hot-button item to this day.
"Sports are fun," said Dr. Stuart, who is the physical for Team USA's men's hockey program. "They promote physical fitness and have been shown to improve academic success. It's also been shown that participating in sport has reduced depression, obesity and other health issues.
"We should take on the challenge of trying to make sports safer … but I think the benefits have far outweighed the costs so I'm optimistic about the future."