Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Elevating the Discussion

In late May of this year the President of the United States of America convened a summit of  more than 200 medical professionals, Commissioners of various college and professional sports team, professional athletes, families members of athletes and even Owners of Professional Sports Teams for anin-depth discussion on Youth Sports Concussions. While the purpose was to learn more about concussions, a major purpose of the President’s summit was to make parents more aware of the risks of contact sports like football,soccer, hockey, lacrosse and even cheerleading.

Personally I have been talking about this subject for more than 25 years. So, it’s not a subject that I don’t know but during those times many of my friends and associates thought I was out of my mind to be so persistent in talking about the brain, the damage that might have accompanied the hits on the field and the possible long term effects of concussions. Some of them thought I was essentially cutting my own throat in regard to my relationship with the National Football League and the New York Football Giants.  15, 10 or even 2 years ago discussing aloud an issue like concussions was not smart nor “cool” especially because over time information on what the NFL knew and didn’t know regarding traumatic brain injuries and concussions presented the League in a not so favorable light. Diagnosed with the lingering effects of concussions over 25 years ago I had to educate myself on the subject as well as educate other players who have played the game, sustained "dings" but never knew that those "dings" were actually concussions even though they never lost consciousness.  Many former players, even guys I played with when I was with the Giants were concerned about me and my state of mind/health. Now some of those same players are coming forward sharing with me neurological issues they are now experiencing after long being removed from football.

I consider myself an Observer of Life. One of the gifts of that trait is having an opportunity to spend an abundance of time observing many of the men who preceded me and my contemporaries on the football field. As that “Observer” I see many former players health deteriorate, fall into decline and eventually pass away from many different causes. What alarms me is the number of former players who in their later life suffered from neurological abnormalities that led to dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately as these players age and become less well known for what they did on the football field when they passed away their passing gets very little attention. The “Observer” in me tells me that players of my era and later will have to eventually face the same fate as those who came before us.

I was pleased last year when Mr. Obama stated “If I had a son I would have to think long and hard about allowing my son to play football.” I have to admit that I never dreamed that this subject would be elevated to the status of the President of the United States personally getting involved, at least in my lifetime. But, I am pleased at the level of the discussion on one of the realities of contact sports, mild traumatic brain injuries. I feel it is urgently important for parents to understand the "risks" involved in playing games that involve the head or brain possibly being injured. I’ve said this over and over that if you attend a football game on any level you learn very quickly that there is a chance someone could get hurt physically. What very seldom is talked about is the risk that an injury to the brain can cause. As a society or as sports fans we never focused on it before but we all should now know that it is a very real possibility. And if that injury to the brain is severe enough there is no way of truly understanding the long term effects of that condition.

I applaud the effort to bring a greater awareness of concussions to the public's attention understanding that the focus is on youth sports safety. As much as I appreciate increasing that awareness and developing more technologically advanced helmets and equipment to make playing the game safer I know very little is being done to help players who have already played and have no clue what they signed up for before the word “concussion” became vogueor a “hot button” topic and one that both the NFL and the Giants have embraced and have acknowledged by providing millions of dollars for research. As much as the push is on to save sports like football and hockey for future generations, where is the effort to help those concussed or “dinged” athletes who want to live a better quality of life after the damage has already been done?