The long-term impact of concussions is widely known but many athletes still fear opening up about head injuries.

NAU interdisciplinary researchers have been awarded a $400,000 grant to study how organizational culture relates to concussion reporting among athletes, coaches and staff.

Research team members Debbie Craig and Monica Lininger, athletic training education professors, and Ann Huffman and Heidi Wayment, psychological science professors, have been awarded the national Mind Matters Challenge grant for their proposal, “Changing the Culture of Concussion Reporting: A Cultural Analysis and Implementation Model.”

“Concussions are unique in the field of athletic injuries because the decision whether to keep playing is less clear,” said Craig, who is director of NAU’s athletic training education program. “Everyone must believe that it is OK to report concussions. This will be a significant cultural shift from the current American football culture. Our goal is to facilitate that shift.”

Wayment said this project is a tremendous opportunity given how rapidly public awareness on head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, is increasing.

“As we know from research in health psychology, just ‘knowing’ that a behavior can negatively impact one’s health is not sufficient for change,” she said. “I am especially excited about our interdisciplinary approach: we will be looking very specifically at multiple factors that impact athletes’ decision-making processes. My colleagues and I each bring a different theoretical perspective to the research, and we are excited to be working together.”

The objective of the project is to investigate the organizational, athletic, individual and interpersonal factors that affect concussion-reporting behavior and develop intervention strategies that increase student-athlete safety and well-being. The research study, funded by the NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense, will be conducted over two and a half years and involve four different NCAA Division I football programs.