||Sporting Goods Chain Supports Concussion Testing in Schools
In a new commercial for Dick's Sporting Goods, Jerome Bettis, the former Pittsburgh Steelers star, strolls through one of the retailer's stores, but Mr. Bettis never gets around to promoting equipment, clothing or footwear.
The spot opens with Mr. Bettis, a running back whose habit of carrying defenders on his back as he charged down the field earned him the nickname the Bus, picking up a football helmet and saying, "You wouldn't get on the field without this -- and you shouldn't get on the field without a baseline concussion test either."
Such tests are at the heart of a new initiative by Dick's aimed at preventing concussions in student athletes and, when they occur, treating them properly.
Through a program it calls Protecting Athletes through Concussion Education, or PACE, Dick's will pay for schoolwide neurocognitive testing of athletes across more than 3,300 schools, totaling more than a million students.
The tests, called ImPACT (for Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing), are given to athletes before a season to provide a baseline of how their brains, when healthy, perform computer tasks that measure functions like verbal memory, visual memory and reaction time. Then, when athletes suffer a confirmed or suspected concussion, the test can be administered again to determine if brain function has deteriorated, in which case players are sidelined until their brains heal.
The test, invented by a doctor-led firm also called ImPACT, is now given to players in the N.F.L., Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League.
The commercial, which closes with Mr. Bettis saying, "Let's bench concussions with the help of Dick's Sporting Goods," was produced in-house and was scheduled to be introduced last week.
"You can see this topic of concussions all over the news, and it's an enormous issue for athletes," said Lauren Hobart, the chief marketing officer at Dick's, which is based in Pittsburgh. "As the leader in sporting goods retail, we care very much about the health and safety of our consumers, so we felt very much like we wanted to get involved."
Through the campaign, which also includes digital advertising, online-only videos, and social-network marketing, Dick's pledges $1 to PACE every time consumers buy a pair of shoes at one of the retailer's 449 stores or online, check in at a Dick's through Foursquare or Facebook Places, click a button to share information about the program with friends on Facebook or send a message over Twitter that includes the hashtag #DSGPACE.
Current and retired professional athletes, including Mr. Bettis and Ali Krieger of the United States women's soccer team, are appearing at Dick's locations across the country throughout August at concussion-awareness events.
In all, the company will pledge up to $1 million to the program, said Ms. Hobart, who declined to say what the retailer would spend on the overall campaign. Dick's spent $52.9 million on advertising in 2010, up from $44 million in 2009, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP.
About 300,000 sports- or recreation-related concussions are diagnosed nationwide yearly, but an estimated 85 percent of concussions go undiagnosed, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
Because both professional and student athletes pride themselves on toughness and even playing hurt, it can be difficult to convince them that they should be sidelined after a blow to the head, said Dr. Mark Lovell, a founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program and co-founder of ImPACT.
"In sports, it's all about 'play through pain,' but you really shouldn't be trying to play through a brain injury," Dr. Lovell said.
Having a spokesman with the stature and reputation for fearlessness of Mr. Bettis could go a long way.
"It's no secret that kids listen when professional athletes talk," Dr. Lovell said. "Someone of the caliber of Jerome Bettis really elevates the issue."
When Dick's approached him about being a spokesman for the program, Mr. Bettis "jumped on it immediately," he said in a telephone interview.
"What Dick's is saying is we outfit these teams with helmets, shoulder pads, and all this protective gear, but we're not giving them the educational gear," Mr. Bettis said.
Even at the professional level, with team doctors at players' disposal, Mr. Bettis, who had numerous concussions, said that he wished he had known more about concussion symptoms and the potential long-term impairment.
"I had a couple serious concussions, but even more importantly, I had minor concussions that I wasn't aware of because I just thought I got my bell rung and shook it off," Mr. Bettis said. "But had I known then what I know now I would have handled it differently and I would have told the trainers, because the last thing I want is 20 years down the road to not have my brain function correctly."
Asked to review the program, Carol Cone, managing director for brand and corporate citizenship at Edelman, the marketing and public relations firm, was impressed.
"They found a critical need and it's totally aligned with their business so there's relevancy, which is really critical for a program to break through," Ms. Cone said.
Such a philanthropic effort is bound to benefit Dick's bottom line, driving more parents to the retailer for back-to-school shopping, she said.
"It is moms in most cases taking the child to get new shoes or a helmet or a ball for school, and concussions have been in the press a lot and are known and feared by mothers," Ms. Cone said. "This is a very positive halo for Dick's."
(Source: NYTimes.com, 08/14/11)
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