Woodpeckers Can't Get Concussions, Will Muschamp Says (And He's Right)

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Florida coach Will Muschamp is not known for his learnedness, but he dropped a little science during a press conference today, telling the assembled reporters a strange-but-true fact: Woodpeckers can't get concussions.

Muschamp was asked about Ronald Powell, a defensive end returning from a torn ACL that kept him off the field in 2012, and used a soliloquy about timetables for recovery from various injuries as a segue to some amateur ornithology:

COACH MUSCHAMP: Well, again, I think every situation medically when you're dealing with the human body is different and every person is different. Yesterday we had Mickey Collins in who is a concussion expert. Was talking to us about when you deal with concussions and when you come back from concussions. He talked about a coach he once dealt with that made the comment this player you could take a shovel and hit him in the back of the head and nothing would ever happen, and this player could bump into a wall and he's going to have a concussion.

Mickey simply said the point is that's right, everyone is different. Everyone handles it differently. A woodpecker is never going to have a concussion. I bet you didn't know that. That's a true story. Isn't it? He said it. They have an extra bone in their neck. They have an extra bone in their neck and they never can have a concussion.

You learn something new every day, you just learned something new. My point being is everyone's different.


And, improbably, Muschamp's right. There's scientific literature suggesting that the anatomy of the woodpecker's skull allows it to absorb the repetitive stress of wood-pecking without causing brain damage.

This isn't entirely applicable to football, or humanity, because it's not like football players can have surgery to reinforce their craniums, but it's still interesting. And some brilliant soul brought up woodpeckers later in the press conference, prompting Muschamp to give one of the better descriptions of what a concussion really is that you will ever hear a football coach give.

Q. I want to know more about the woodpecker. How do you know that about the woodpecker?

I was in a concussion meeting yesterday, and he was an expert on concussions, so I'm going to take his word for it. I have not researched it, so it could be wrong. But he has an extra bone in the back of his neck, therefore every time he hits the wall there or a tree, obviously, he can't ever have a concussion.

It's all about‑‑ really, concussions happen because your head is like an egg, and the yolk is your brain. So when you have violent action, those synapses are messed up, and that's how it causes a concussion. I believe it's the potassium runs out of the synapses and the calcium runs in.


Say what you will about Muschamp, a guy who reacts to popular culture like it's an alien language, but he was clearly paying attention when the concussion expert—Michael Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Sports Medicine Concussion Program—came to talk. Coaches who will do that and apply the teachings are good allies to have in the fight to make sports safer.

Update: Here's the video, via Thomas Goldkamp.

Photo: Bill Haber/Associated Press