In 2011 MLS instituted its own policy regarding concussions. Identifying when a player has suffered a concussion and guidelines for care can all be invaluable in getting a player back on the field safely. One of the first players to experience a concussion under these new rule was Calen Carr. I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk with Carr about the policy - and of course about that famous helmet.
As one of the first guinea pigs for the MLS concussion protocol do you feel like it does enough for concussion?
"Yeah I think having a league wide standard as far as how we treat concussions is really important. I think it's a huge step forward for our league.
Concussions are a difficult injury because no two concussions are the same. So it makes it difficult in a way to treat in that respect. They're also difficult as far as setting a protocol as far as how to treat them in they vary so much what you can do for them is hard but I think as far as having a system where you can do that helps improve player safety.
In my experience it really helped me as a far as having all the resources to talk to and to be looked over by."
Does the Dynamo have its own concussion policy?
"I can't speak to before there was a league wide one.
My concussion happened while I was in Chicago. It's was a strange situation and it's rare for a player to be traded while they are hurt, but that happened with me.
It was seamless transition as far as I was able to see how two organizations treated it and I saw the same type of people in each place. The protocol was the same in each place and I think that sort of continuity is a good thing for the league and for the players. While my recovery was never easy in any way, it made it easier.
I kind of tested out the league wide policy in two places and found it to be consistent and that's an awesome sign as well."
What was the hardest part that you had to struggle with during the concussion?
"I think head injuries in general are just scary and frustrating.
I am currently going through a knee injury and there are time tables and specific thresholds that you cross and you are improving and getting better as weeks progress. With concussions, the hardest part was just sort of the unknown. There isn't anything the doctors can do for you besides give you advice. As far as treating your body and give your brain the adequate rest that it needs, there's no ligament you can repair. Nothing like that so that was the hardest part for me was the uncertainty kind of you know the contanstness of my symptoms.
Over time I began to make small gains and gradually my symptoms subsided more than anything.
I felt fortunate to have a coach and medical staff supporting me that didn't pressure me to push past any symptoms or any concerns which I know in the business of sports."
So would you say the concussion was a bigger challenge mentally than the knees injuries that you have had?
"I don't know if I could really say that one was bigger than the other. When you have a knee injury and you can't walk it's really frustrating. They [injuries] are all pretty bad.
I think the fact that there didn't seem like much I could really do about the injury was a different type of frustration. We make small tweaks to what I was able to do to in my routine and found a way for me to be active without putting my health in danger. I also did some sort of balance training with some neurological physical therapists."
I had read an old interview that said that had you laying on the ground and rolling around with goggles on.
"Yeah we tried a lot of things with my concussion and some of them maybe worked and some of them didn't. The problem with concussions is that they are so different there is no tool to measure your strength or gains.
Trying to just see which ones work and sometimes it is just a matter of time and managing it mentally. With any injury you have to keep hope and faith that things will be fine and do the things that your doctors ask of you.
I try to do all those things and luckily in my case those things resolved and haven't come back but I think that's definitely a credit to the system around me."
Do you think that helmets (like the one Carr wears each game) should be instituted at the youth league levels? That way players come up wearing them as normal part of the game rather than a reactionary tool after injury.
"I don't know.
I think obviously having a concussion and being a professional athlete gives you some sort of platform to speak on but I think I would have to defer to medical experts on the solvency of it and preventative device for children and reducing the risks of concussions.
Each player has to make their own decision on what is best for them I am not an advocate for that but I think that when it comes to anything in life, you have to weigh the options and see what the ways are to protect yourself from injury and see what risk you are willing to take or not willing to take.
I can stand up and talk about it as a topic of conversation and media outlets and it's being spoken about on ESPN and SportCenter and different organizations like what Taylor Twellman (thinktaylor.org) started.
I think if you speak to neurologists, I don't think they have a final verdict on head injuries or concussions, but I think for now the dialogue is a good place to start."
One thing that we are starting to see on the field more is players wearing helmets to protect their heads from concussion. As they grow in popularity so do the options as far as coverage- full head coverage or ones like the Full 90 which is more of a headband style. Upon returning to the field, Carr began wearing a full coverage helmet to help protect his head from further damage. It has since taken on a life of its own, so you know I wasn't going to let the chance go by to talk about it.
So the helmet, how did that get brought up to you during your recovery?
"I was encouraged to try one of the protective head devices I have seen players before.
Obviously the helmet I am wearing now isn't the coolest thing, but I decided that was the last thing I was concerned about. I was just desperate to be back on the field.
This one gives more coverage (versus the less coverage of a Full 90) if I were to get hit on the top of my head or on the back of the head. It makes me feel more comfortable. I spoke to one of my old teammates back in Chicago [Logan Pause] who had worn one in a couple games and he basically said to try it. I gave it a try, liked it and started wearing it from there.
Now it's more of a comfort issue than a need issue. I don't think it necessarily saves me from anything. I have no fear as far as heading balls, but there are instances where you catch a stray elbow and on the ground someone's knee can hit your head and for me it just became more of a comfort issue.
I just felt like for me it was the right decision to continue wearing it."
Do you score so you have the chance to take it off?
[Laughs] "Usually when you score a goal, the cameras start clicking. So a buddy of mine, who I went to college with, said hey man I'm cool with you wearing the helmet and all it's kind of becoming your thing but it's gotta come off for the camera."
Have you named the helmet?
"I have not named the helmet.
As much as it is a serious topic, everything in the locker room can become a joke of some sort - especially anything that's different. I have definitely gotten a lot of jokes. I've got guys trying it on for fun sometimes.
Brian Ching has been telling me that I need to sort of monetize it and get some sponsors on it like NASCAR. He offered me $50 to put brianching.com on the front of it.
I haven't taken any sponsors yet, but I am open to all offers.
I have heard some fans start chanting it [the helmet] and I have seen some bootleg imitations in the crowd which is kind of cool."
And it is also part of your Tifo how do you feel having it on there too?
"It's kinda cool. Any support that I get I am thankful for. I think it is definitely a recognizable thing and it's a cool thing that fans are into it.
I'm not the toughest guy out there and it's got sort of a menacing look to it so I'll take that. I think I can use that for my image."
Carr's current challenge
During the 2012 MLS Cup final Carr suffered an ACL tear that has him out of the game for what may be most of the 2013 season - but then again anything is possible.
I've heard that things are going well with the knee recovery. Hopefully it's a faster recovery than originally projected.
"Yeah I think it's something I don't have final date as far as when I am supposed to be back playing but all of the news that I have gotten back from my team of doctors and trainers is that I am on the right path.
Also some news as far as it not requiring as much time and intervention as maybe originally thought which is always good news to hear."
Seeing you go down on the field just watching you could tell it was not good.
"Terrible injury, terrible timing.
One of the things to come from all of the injuries is that I've always come back better, so I know how hard you have to work to come back from these injuries. I've done it before and that is just my mentality.
I'm looking forward to coming back and I think this could be a special year for us."