Times have changed when it comes to brain injuries

The fact that Fernando Alonso will sit out the Formula One opener this weekend says a ton about advances in understanding brain injuries.

The two-time champion was hurt Feb. 22 in a relatively ordinary-looking crash at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain.

"Good lord, people would have massive crashes in practice at Indianapolis, at Spa (Belgium) and Le Mans (France) and jump right back in the next car that's available. Never give it a second thought," NBC Sports F1 analyst David Hobbs said Thursday. Hobbs was at the track when the two-time champion Alonso had his unspectacular accident Feb. 22 in Spain.

"Obviously, times have changed and people are much more cognizant of the fact that these things are serious."

That's the same all over the sports world, from baseball to rugby to soccer, Hobbs said, but nothing gets people's attention the way big money does. He was thinking of the $765 million agreement reached last year by the NFL to compensate former players who suffer lasting effects of concussions and fund research of head trauma.

"Companies like McLaren and of course Honda are terribly aware of public thought, so they don't want to go putting some driver out there who might suffer some sort of brain damage (in a subsequent crash)," said Hobbs, a part-time Wisconsin resident.

Hobbs, 75, joked that he was too careful or too slow to have been hurt during his successful driving career in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. But he knows he and his circle of old racing friends — Brian Redman, Derek Bell, Mario Andretti, Vic Elford — have been fortunate to have escaped the memory loss, dementia and other health problems associated with chronic brain injuries.

"But in the old days, if you hit something hard enough to give yourself a concussion — you know, the helmets weren't much good — there was a pretty good chance you'd be killed anyway," Hobbs said. "The question wouldn't arise." JSOnline

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