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OKC Thunder: James Harden's concussion a scary brain injury

With all of the measures taken to protect an athlete after suffering a concussion, the return date for Thunder guard James Harden is tough to predict.
by Jenni Carlson Published: April 23, 2012

No one has any idea how long James Harden will be out.

The Thunder issued a statement Monday evening that the super sub has continued to undergo concussion testing, that he has more steps that must be taken before he's cleared and that he will be further evaluated Tuesday. But after he took the elbow heard ‘round the world from Ron Artest — the Lakers forward doesn't deserve to be called Metta World Peace after what went down Sunday — Harden's return is anyone's guess.

So it goes with brain injuries.

That's what we're talking about here. Oh, the medical term for what Harden is suffering from is a concussion. It's a word that we've become well-acquainted with in the sports world. Unfortunately, concussions are killing athletes, sometimes in an unexpected instant but more often in a slow, painful existence.

Concussions are awful, horrible beasts.

And yet, we've somehow become desensitized to the word concussion. It doesn't alarm us. It doesn't faze us.

So, let's call it what it is — a brain injury.

Doesn't seem nearly so innocuous, does it?

Harden has a brain injury. The impact of a meaty, maniacal dude smashing his elbow into the soft spot just behind Harden's ear jarred his brain, banging it around his skull and bruising it who knows where.

Sounds scary because it is.

These types of brain injuries have caused sports at every level to take stock of their athletes. Youth leagues. College teams. Professional ranks. Everyone is trying to make their game safer.

Most notable in that movement is the NFL. In the past couple years, it has taken an extremely hard line on potential concussion-causing hits; it has seen too many former players developing all sorts of mental illnesses. Dementia and Alzheimer's top the list.

But the NFL isn't the only one taking action.

The NBA adopted a concussion management program this past December. (Hey, just because the basketball is non-tackling doesn't mean it's non-contact.) This is the league's attempt to standardize the steps a player must take in order to return to the court after a concussion.

There are neurological tests and exertion tests. A player has to ride a stationary bike, then jog, then do a battery basketball drills. After each activity, he has to remain symptom free.

No headaches. No dizziness. No side effects of any kind.

If that doesn't happen at any stage along the way, he has to go back to the first test and start all over again.

It's a little like getting to the end of Chutes and Ladders, then hitting that big slide that sends you back to the beginning. (Didn't you hate it when that happened?) And yet, it's all done in the best interest of the player.

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by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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