2018 NASSS Annual Conference
Sport Soundtrack: Sport, Music, & Culture

John C. Hyden

Campbell Clinic & University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center
Concuss(us): On Knowing the Athletic Brain, Damaged

Sport-based traumatic brain injuries have in recent years become increasingly exigent in public health and medical science discourses. Numerous scholars and public commentators have suggested that the violence endogenous to many popular contact sports—boxing, mixed martial arts, American football, hockey, among them—has intensified in rhythm with advances in speed/strength training regiments and performance technology. The ‘concussion crisis’ as a matter of public concern perhaps reached its apogee with the release of the Will Smith-protagonized film Concussion, which depicts the struggles of Dr. Bennet Omalu as he sought to challenge the medical and professional sport dispositifs standing orthodoxies on links between sport participation and long-term health consequences thereof. 

Our concern here is with how the brain—as both instrument (the doctor’s or athlete’s medical diagnosis) and object (swelling, ionic imbalance, damaged nerve fibers, etc.) of biopolitics—expresses itself at the materializations of medical gaze and corporeality. That is, how is the traumatized brain in sporting contexts expressed, embodied, performed, diagnosed, and rendered safe or at risk? In this presentation, the authors seek to establish a cross-disciplinary dialogue around the concurrent medical, performative, and neuro-physical events that constitute the sport-based concussion. By way of this ‘dialogue,’ the first author will provide auto-ethnographic reflections on the challenges faced by medical care providers (and by those concussed) in (self-)diagnosing the symptoms associated with brain trauma. The authors will conclude with a series of new materialist interpretations of how sport-based violence comes to be embodied as brain matter-turned-performance/discourse.