January 13, 2016

Concussion: A Reflection from an Athlete

As a football player and athlete in general we play the game for our deeply rooted love for it. There aren’t many times or any time at all where you really think about “What if I get hurt or what if I get a concussion”. These two thoughts hardly rear their face to you when you’re an athlete, and they never should. The reason for this is because it creates a timid mindset. If you consistently think about getting injured or avoiding injury you automatically impact your mindset and work ethic as an athlete and it affects your level of performance.

I’ve listened to Sports Talk Radio, watched Mike and Mike in the Morning and I’ve talked with other athletes: many of them former NFL athletes about the recently released movie “Concussion”. The movie is an overview of the study that forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu pursued in analyzing CTE(Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) after former NFL Player and Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster’s death occurred. In Mike Webster’s final days he was described as “angry”, “lost”, and even “distraught”. Mike Webster’s autopsy revealed that he had significant damage on the inside of his brain, swelling, and bleeding. Dr. Omalu discovered it was CTE, a¬†progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head where essentially the brain and it’s functions are “suffocated” as Dr. Omalu described. This can answer the anger Mike Webster possessed, the insomnia and lack of sleep that he got, and the memory loss as described by his friends and family. Many people are indicating that “Concussion” is a War against the NFL. It is not: and I ask that people stop suggesting this. There is no War against the NFL: only an attempt to create further awareness of the impacts of head trauma which is common in the NFL. My reasoning for this: ask any player from the HS level to the NFL. We are aware of the risks of the game when we put on the helmet and shoulder pads. We are aware of the fact that at any given moment our career may end to injury or potentially death, and I believe this fact has gone unnoticed as the media portrays concussions and injuries in the NFL as something that players and people are unaware of. We are aware, we are very aware.

As a former player in the ADFL, the American Developmental Football League I can reflect on the concussions that I’ve had. I’ve suffered 4 concussions, 4 significant impact concussions. 3 while in High School and 1 while in the ADFL. The first concussion that I suffered came on a punt where I was a gunner running down the field to tackle the returner. As soon as the returner caught the ball, I hit him. I don’t really recall anything outside of what the film showed. The return man dropped his body to catch the punt and I was running full speed at him, the moment he caught the ball my helmet smacked his helmet. The only thing I remember was seeing white and nothing after. This was my first ever concussion and I had to follow the instructions usually given. 1. Symptoms of dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise. 2. At night, be woken up hourly. 3. Rest and go through protocol to return to play. Flash forward to my Senior Year on the road against Willamette High School. The play was this: Covering a WR during the play, QB finds time to create space and the WR I was covering came back to the ball on a deep curl and he caught it, I whiffed the tackle, and so I began pursuit of him as he was running up the sideline, my teammate Ty Cutting smacked him and me, unfortunately. The film shows the hit from being to the side of my head and I was out cold. I have no recollection of anything of that game, not even the trip up to Eugene, Oregon. After watching it on film I see the play that led to the hit and I became angry and upset: Not because I got hit, but because if I was more disciplined and in position, I wouldn’t have suffered the concussion. I whiffed and I put myself in a bad position. The following play shows me on the field, looking confused and unaware. I shouldn’t have been out there and the officials didn’t remove me from play. Luckily for me the ball didn’t go to my side and it went opposite of me. A teammate must have noticed and said something to the trainer who pulled me from the game and immediately diagnosed me. The photo below will show that. So, I had suffered from what my neurologist had to me was a double-concussion. The hit that I took from the side of the head created this domino effect where my brain jolted from one side of the brain to the other and back. To simplify this analogy, place a tennis ball in the middle of a laundry basket and hit it from the side while maintaining stability, the ball immediately shifts left to right. I encountered double impact and encountered memory loss, extreme headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, and insomnia.

2011 MHS FB @ Willamette-1061-X2

Over time this concussion began to significantly impact my life in many ways: I was in a relationship with a great girl at the time and it impacted my relationship with this girl drastically. I encountered mood swings, depression, and anger because of this concussion and it was all out of my control and it led to this relationship ending. I can look back at everything today and understand. And after watching Concussion I found peace and I found answers to the problems I was encountering and that I still encounter to this very day. The intense headaches from time to time, insomnia, and sometimes impulsive responses and mood swings of anger. I am not in control at all times and I have found that.

Do I regret ever playing football? No, never! I would do it all over again and again because I love the game and I love what it has done for me. The injuries and concussions I understand are parts of the game and I will never deface this game or what it has done to me when I knew very well the risks associated with the game that I played and the position I played.

When I pass away one day I will donate my brain to science so that we can discover new technology to reduce the effects of head trauma. I have found peace and I have found understanding and pray that as I get older with age that the effects do not amplify in the way that Mike Webster’s did.

Here is the video of my concussion:

– Cody