How many of you have been so certain of something that you'd be willing to bet all of your worldly possessions as well as your life on it? Well, that is how I feel about the issues of sports related concussions sustained earlier in life and the long lasting effects on the brain later in life. As each day goes by it becomes clearer and clearer to me of the residual effects of concussions I sustained as a young man years ago, not just with what I personally feel and live with but also with what I've seen in so many former athletes who played contact sports at some earlier point in their lives. Many of these athletes are men I know who I either played with or against on the football field or I've admired from other sports. It seems that while some live very productive lives others live with (in my view) effects of concussions they probably sustained at some earlier point in their sports career. Some of these former athletes were skeptical of a connection between the "dings" they played with "back in the day" but are seeing their lives differently now that they are experiencing memory loss, mood swings, headaches, depression, an inability to process information mentally, sensitivity to noise and lights, etc. They did not make a connection until they started to feel their own minds and bodies change. I made the connection more than 25 years ago, so I've been at this rodeo for a very long time.
If you've followed the litigation of former National Football League players or lawsuits against high school athletic programs or even lawsuits against Pop Warner Football Programs you will see that those lawsuits brought against those entities have been mostly settled in favor of the plaintiffs. Ten to twenty years ago there probably was no way a plaintiff would have scored a victory against sports programs that have been around for years. The average person would look at those programs as wholesome sports that taught very valuable life lessons. And I would be one of the first to vouch for the life lessons that came from participating in contact sports like football or ice hockey but very few players and even fewer parents of those players know of the potential life altering changes brain injuries you can sustain while they are playing. Unfortunately, I have personally bared witness to how the lives of many men who have participated in contact sports have been effected. More and more former athletes from all levels of competition are now more than willing to come out of the shadows of silence to share their issues/stories publicly. I think that the viewing of programs like PBS documentary "League of Denial", the big screen movie "Concussion" and high profile suicides of former players like Junior Seau have brought a much greater sense of awareness of head trauma and the effects short and even long term.
While I see the evidence of head trauma of many people around me, I also pay very close attention to my own personal experiences. No one knows me, my mental makeup or of my own experiences better than I do. With all that I've seen but more so, of all that I've experienced, what I know, I know for sure! And while it might not be the best topic of conversation to have over dinner with friends who cannot relate to my football experiences, all who know me know that if you bring up the topic of concussions I will inundate you with a pretty strong message on the subject. Once again, what I know about the subject, I know for damn sure and slowly but surely others who are willing to listen with an open mind and give some thought to information on head trauma that was not available before are making sense in understanding that in collision sports the brain cannot be fully protected from trauma. What actually happens when it's injured? No one knows until after death.
Here is why I continue to "bang the drum" as much as I do. I wrote in my book "Captain for Life" several years ago that I knew I could get hurt physically before I ever step on the football field to play that contact sport. I assumed that risk and played the game anyway. And yes, I did get hurt physically (many times) and today I live with those aches and pains as a result of the obvious physical injuries from my football career. But I didn't know that I could injure myself neurologically playing football. Nobody shared that information with me and others like me who took the field like gladiators knocking ourselves silly just to entertain our fans! I feel that it is important to "bang the drum", no matter how uncomfortable people feel or how much they get tired of hearing me talk about concussions and the residual effects. I don't "bang the drum" as an indictment of football or contact sports. And no, contrary to what some people feel, I am not trying to wage a war against football. I simply feel that it is imperative that every parent understand and is fully informed of the neurological risk they assume when they sign their child up to participate in a contact sport. No one ever told me before or doing the time I played that I could injure my brain but I'm sharing with you that the risk to play or emulate what is seen on television on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in the fall might be more dangerous than it's worth.
The science of the brain and traumatic brain injuries and concussions is constantly evolving. The issues of many of those who played contact sports early in life is coming into clearer focus because as they've aged conditions like dementia, Alzheimer's and ALS have surfaced in many individuals later in life. And now, with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) being found in so many former athletes after death, every parent, both mother and father should arm themselves with as much truthful "scientific" information as possible in regard to making their "informed decision" as to whether their most important possession (their child) playing a contact sports is worth the risk.
I am in approximately 14 different Halls of Fame, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and I am the 231st individual to be inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Any father or grandfather would want his offspring to follow in his footsteps. But I feel so strongly about this concussion issue and the possible long term effects that I am not willing to bet my 6 year old grandson's life and his world on playing contact sports. He knows as well as everyone in our family knows that his "Pop Pop" is not willing to allow him to do that given what we as a family knows. This is no judgement on anyone else but I "value" and "treasure" my grandson much too much to take that risk!