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University of Minnesota

Documentary examines female athletes and concussions

October 7, 2011

Two female hockey players scuffle along the boards.

According to the documentary, female athletes have a greater rate of concussion while playing hockey than male athletes do, both in high school and college.

Photo: courtesy University Athletics

By Rick Moore

Story update: "Concussions and Female Athletes: The Untold Story" was nominated for a regional Emmy in the "Sports: One-Time Special" category.

In the fall of 2010, Nicole LaVoi attended an ice hockey summit subtitled, “Action on concussion.” As the associate director of the U’s Tucker Center for Girls & Women in Sport, she was listening to the proceedings with a lens on gender, and she was surprised at what she was hearing, or rather, what she wasn’t hearing.

“Everything I heard was about male athletes—everything,” says LaVoi. “And I thought, ‘Where’s the data on the women?’”

That moment ultimately led to the Tucker Center choosing the impact of concussions on female athletes as the topic for its 2011 spring Distinguished Lecture.

And that, in turn, has led to even greater publicity. Twin Cities Public Television, in partnership with the Tucker Center, has produced a groundbreaking documentary, “Concussions and Female Athletes,” that premiered last fall.

The hour-long program features interviews with athletes, parents, coaches, trainers, referees, scholars, and others who have direct experience with concussions. The athletes, in particular—including a number of former Gopher players—offer a glimpse at the broad range of post-concussion symptoms and the significant differential in recovery times.

Through these personal stories and the discussion with medical experts and scholars, the documentary examines the forces underlying concussion and offers practical solutions to help prevent and treat sports-related head injuries in female athletes.

“Regardless of your knowledge base, whether you’re an expert, a lay person, a coach, a parent, there’s really some solid evidence-based information in there you can utilize,” says LaVoi. “So it’s an education tool, it’s a prevention tool, and it’s an awareness tool.”

Now is certainly the time for closer scrutiny of concussions in female athletes. As Tucker Center director Mary Jo Kane points out in the documentary, prior to the landmark Title IX legislation that opened the door to equality for women, only 1 in 27 females participated in a sport in high school. That number is now 1 in 3. In addition, 40 percent of all people who participate in sports and physical activity—including scholarship athletes—are females.

LaVoi says it’s still too early to draw any conclusions about physiological differences between female and male athletes regarding concussions. But there are plenty of things to examine further. Like the increased rate of concussions among female athletes playing soccer, basketball, and hockey compared to their male peers.

As well, it will be imperative that coaches and health practitioners alike understand the gravity of their decisions involving athletes who have had concussions.

“Children and adolescent brains—they’re still developing,” LaVoi notes. “And then when they have a traumatic brain injury, it’s really critical that they take the time to recover properly. Because if they don’t … it can really have long-lasting consequences.”

As part of the unique partnership agreement, TPT has granted the Tucker Center rights to distribute the documentary as an educational tool to a broad audience, including coaches, athletes, scholars, educators, policy makers, and the general public. In addition, it will be available for free on the Tucker Center website.

“We want to be able to give it away,” says LaVoi. “Our goal here as a research center is to disseminate the information and make it accessible to those who need it most.” 

Tags: Athletics

Related Links

Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport