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Expert in Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries Is
Named a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow

September 20, 2011

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Guskiewicz speaking at the West Chester University 2010 Winter Commencement

Kevin Guskiewicz, a 1989 West Chester graduate with a bachelor's in athletic training, is among this year's MacArthur Fellows. A neuroscientist whose research has focused on the seriousness of long-term effects of sports-related concussions, he was on campus in December to give the mid-year commencement address to undergraduates.

Informally referred to as "the genius grant," the prestigious MacArthur Fellows Program awards unrestricted fellowships to individuals who meet three criteria for selection: exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.

Guskiewicz is a researcher and athletic trainer who has made major advances in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of sports-related concussions. Each year, approximately 3.8 million athletes in the United States experience mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions. The danger of sports-related concussions, particularly among pro-football players, has become a hot topic.

In his address to this year's mid-winter graduates, Guskiewicz described the skepticism and challenges he and his research colleagues faced when results of their findings on head injuries were released in 2005 and 2007. "Our four-year study identified a high probability of developing later-life cognitive impairment and depression once a player had sustained three or more concussions during their NFL career," explained Guskiewicz. "It was the last thing the NFL wanted to hear."

While the NFL aggressively attacked the researchers' findings - hiring other doctors and scientists to discredit their reports - Guskiewicz and his colleagues decided to expand their research and eventually corroborated their findings through longitudinal studies.

Today, the Guskiewicz research team is leading the NFL's research in this area. As he noted in his take-home message to the graduating seniors: "When you know you are right and your integrity is intact, you will persevere." Recalls Vice President for Student Affairs Matt Bricketto, "Kevin was one of our stars in student life as a undergraduate, a leader in the Friar's Society, as well as an officer in the student athletic trainers club. He was The Quad news editor (1986-87) and co-editor (1987-88) and was inducted into our Legacy of Leadership in 2005." A member of the faculty at the University of North Carolina since 1995, Guskiewicz followed his West Chester degree with a master's in exercise physiology and athletic training and a doctorate in sports medicine from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Virginia, respectively.

Today, he holds the Kenan Distinguished Professorship and oversees the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He also chairs the Department of Exercise and Sport Science and holds joint appointments in the Department of Orthopaedics, the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center, and the doctoral program in Human Movement Science.

Over the past 17 years, he has researched the effect of sport-related concussion on balance and neuropsychological function in high school and collegiate athletes, as well as the long-term neurological issues related to playing sports. While engaging clinicians, coaches, parents and athletes in recognizing the immediate and long-term effects of concussions, Guskiewicz is contributing significantly to state and federal policy discussions concerning development of more stringent return-to-play guidelines and head-gear investigations that will improve the safety of athletes of all ages.

His work has been published in more than 75 journals and textbooks on concussion in sport. He has been awarded fellowships by the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education, and the National Athletic Trainers' Association. This year, Guskiewicz was named to the NCAA's Concussion Committee, the NFLPA's Mackey-White Committee, and the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

Each of the 22 MacArthur Fellowships awarded this year comes with a "no strings attached" stipend of $500,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years.