Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most dominant small forwards in the NBA. He is an undisputed franchise player for the Milwaukee Bucks, and averages almost 28 points per game according to ESPN. Affectionately dubbed the “Greek Freak” by his fans, Antetokounmpo is consistently identified as one of the best players in the league and a certain rising superstar.
But the star’s season seemed in jeopardy earlier this fall. He quickly fell to the floor in October after taking Aaron Gordon’s elbow to the head in a game against the Orlando Magic, but was soon back on his feet, and finished the game alongside his teammates.
Before the Bucks’ next game against Toronto, though, the team released a statement indicating that although its teams doctors had cleared him to return to play against the Magic, the group had reevaluated Antetokounmpo a day later and found his symptoms to be indicative of a concussion.
“Bucks team physicians followed league protocols and consulted the league’s neurologist during the evaluation periods… Antetokounmpo passed his neurological tests that created significant doubt that it was a concussion and he was allowed to return to play,” the statement read according to CBS.
“Antetokounmpo was evaluated again yesterday and reported new symptoms along with a lingering headache. For that reason, he was placed into the concussion protocol and will miss tonight’s game vs. Toronto.”
Antetokounmpo reportedly said that he “didn’t remember much” after sustaining the injury. But he returned to practice less than a week later, and was cleared to play against the Celtics.
Observers often consider basketball to be a “safe” alternative to more contact-heavy sports such as football or hockey, especially when it comes to sustaining dangerous head injuries with long-term impacts. Yet this bias clouds the fact that dangerous cognitive injuries can be suffered in any setting and any game. The New York Times reports that female youth basketball players suffer 5.6 concussions per 10,000 exposures, which is twice the rate of male players. A small percentage, but a percentage nonetheless.
A study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine listed NBA concussions per season at 14.9, while another review calculated that of 100 exposures, 23 concussions were suffered by WNBA players.
Professional and college leagues maintain specific protocol to monitor players’ cognitive health. But to fully ensure players’ safety, they will likely, alongside other athletics coordinators, transition to cognitive data collectors such as the Reflexion Edge. The Edge is a six-by-two-foot portable LED touchscreen board that measures and trains cognitions such as peripheral vision, reaction time and depth perception and records scores using an individual user profile. Athletes interact with numerous custom light patterns that appear on the board, and incorporate the Edge into their training regimen to build a large baseline of data. This baseline is then compared to every test the athlete takes, and if the system records a drop, the administrative professional is automatically notified.
Visual training and cognitive monitoring are developing trends in the performance training and sports medicine world. These two entities are both addressed by the Edge, which is used to isolate and evaluate individual cognitions while training an athlete’s visual abilities. The Edge allows athletes to improve their mental acuity, instruction following, concentration, problem solving, multitasking, decision-making, logic, pattern recognition or eye-hand coordination while simultaneously assessing their cognitive state. The Edge can also be used to aid athletes recovering from cognitive injury by exercising their vestibular and oculomotor skills and evaluating their brain function.
The brain and its protection are crucial in any sport, making cognitive monitoring and training the next frontier of their improvement and safety.