Friday, June 12, 2015

Back to the issue of Concussions (Somewhat)!

I take great pride in sharing with people and various groups I speak to that I was trained to be an "Educator"!

When I went to college I graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education. Most people don't know that the game of football was something that I fell into on the side but I knew (at the time) that if I didn't make it professionally I was already certified to teach so there was no pressure on me to go on with my life after college.

Eventually after my 4 years of college football and 13 seasons playing for the New York Giants I realized that there was something going on with me neurologically but I could not put my finger on exactly what the problem was until being diagnosed with a mild form of Post Concussion Syndrome. When I had a name to go with what I was experiencing it was, quite honestly, a relief to know that I was not going crazy at the time because of the various issues I was experiencing but kept to myself. I set out to learn as much as I could through reading books and scanning the internet for information on the condition. Being aware and listening to my own body has been the best education for me to understand my own issues with Post Concussion Syndrome. By listening to my internal voice and what my body was experiencing I was in essence, conducting my own personal in-depth studies, no different from any other research source. Over the years I've had the opportunity to share my concussion experiences with groups and sources willing to listen. Some of those sources like the Brain Injury Association got on-board with issue of concussions in sports related activities while others have been in denial and continue to be. What is amazing to me is while I, as well as a small group of others who spoke up on the lingering effects of concussions many years ago, never believed that we would live to see the day when the National Football League or any other entity would acknowledge a connection between head injuries and ailments like dementia and Alzheimer's disease later in life. But that day has happened as the National Football League has settled a concussion lawsuit brought by former players.

I say all of that to make this point. I was recently asked to offer the convocation speech for New York University School of Professional Studies and the commencement address for the graduates of Fairleigh Dickinson University class of 2015. I was honored to have been asked by two institutions I hold in very high regard to offer addresses. At the Fairleigh Dickinson Graduation that took place at MetLife Stadium I was honored with an honorary doctorate degree. Over the years I've gotten many awards and honors that were primarily based on my body of work as a football player. What makes this honor so special and gratifying is the recognition for what I've done primarily since leaving the game.  Advocating on behalf of others who have no voice on the issues of concussions, advocating on behalf of minority coaches and my fellow former NFL brethern to get better benefits and pensions and how (in general) I've lived my life giving back to the community was gratifying to hear during the presentation of the degree.

As I stood on the stage in the stadium and received the honorary doctorate I first thought of how ironic it was that I would be recognized in an athletic facility by an academic institution. Then, I thought of being that singular voice (at times) going against the grain of what is the most popular sport on the planet talking about the long term hazards of playing the sport. I thought of all those people, including many former football players who thought I was crazy to even talk about the subject of concussions publicly. But then, in a way, I felt that for the past 25 years I used what I was trained for as that "Educator" to teach others and help bring to the attention of the world an awareness of the effects of head trauma later in life. I admit that I cherish that honorary doctorate degree because while I did not put in the actual physical classroom time, I was aware of every minute experiencing the effects of Post Concussion Syndrome. In reality I feel that I attended a one person school, learning substance I could only know by experiencing symptoms and data through first hand experience.  After receiving the honor and making my speech I finally felt a sense of vindication, that all I've experienced neurologically and any backlash I've felt as a result of being so vocal on the concussion issue was well worth it.

It was important to share the experience of receiving the doctorate with my family but I really wanted my grandchildren to see their "Pop Pop's" recognition to know and understand that if you stand on what you think is the truth, no matter what anyone else says or feel, good things can happen no matter how long it takes!