Concussion And Football

 

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I really enjoyed Concussion. I wasn’t aware Will Smith could, you know, act. He’s really just the same person in practically every movie. There’s not a ton of depth to his performances. This completely changed my opinion about him. He really came alive as Bennet Omalu.

The depictions of the NFL and their resistance seemed pretty spot on. The scenes where men struggling with chronic traumatic encephalopathy were truly horrifying. I enjoyed this film all the way through. I highly recommend it to anyone with the most remote interest in America, football, or medicine.

Thinking On It:

It is bugging me how some people are spearheading the “let’s stop playing football” initiative. I’ve ranted about it in a recent podcast, but to my surprise it’s stuck in my craw.

I couldn’t figure out why that was. My father actually sent me an email applauding my decision for quitting playing football after my freshman year in high school. I’d played for a decade, but had lost too much weight to hold my position at left tackle. There was a chance I could go out for the position again, but that involved taking some measures I wasn’t prepared to take. I was into my metal, I was into my emaciating uppers, and I was into poker.

Looking back, I probably would have been much healthier if I stayed playing football, although obviously my situation is a pretty odd one. Surely, if the decision had been between living a healthy life and living a healthy life with football then abstaining from the pigskin would have been the right idea, right?

Well, then I heard Dr. Drew relay some research that showed real brain trauma didn’t occur in football till the college game. I thought that was garbage. I’d gotten my bell rung and so did everyone else I know who played. It used to be a joke. You’d get up and go to the wrong huddle. You’d forget what field you were on or what team you were facing.

I can’t imagine that’s good for kids. But after a quick Google search I saw these studies. This study published by The American Journal of Cardiology actually found football players to be healthier than the normal population, with longer lifespans to boot. This study done by the University Of Michigan contributed to the research, showing players experienced depression at the same rate as the normal population.

Bennet Omalu’s research was of incredible value, but it bugs me how in the movie they deify him. They go after his boss to get to him, and he shouts, “I’ll never testify!” In real life they charged his boss for unrelated (non-persecution) reasons, and Bennet Omalu did testify against his boss.

I really don’t care usually about Hollywood embellishing a story to make it better, but now that they’re going after my favorite sport I realize that’s a callous position. Bennet Omalu literally called for the ending of youth football. This movie is going to reach far more people than the articles explaining the fallacies.

From what I gathered there’s a good deal of evidence that many former pro football players are actually healthier individuals…and that doesn’t seem to come up at all. There is a much higher risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, but nobody seems to be going after the X-Games or hockey for what I imagine is a similar risk. Hell, I’ve seen figure skaters fall and slam their heads a bunch of times.

It bugs me because my childhood was improved vastly by football. I was taught how to contribute. In ten years of playing I never touched the ball. My job was always to protect the other guy, and I took great pride in that.

In a youth league I was in later on I played with some bad ass kids. They went on to play college. Our football coaches had gone really far in the game. They were fair, but they rode us hard.

I respected my teammates and coaches greatly. When I’d successfully defend my quarterback or opened a gap for our running back to run a touchdown; that feeling was incredible. To get the “thanks” from them, or to have our coach quietly acknowledge I was the guy to defend our quarterback’s blind side…man, that meant a lot to me.

It taught me how to take instruction. I never was insulted personally by a football coach, but I had to get used to getting yelled at. Messing up a play could cost someone real pain, so there was no margin for error. I had to get it right, and I had to do it fast. Accepting instruction from not-so-pleasant resources and people has gotten me very far in life.

Football also taught me about how to work in a team. The game demands the coordination of ELEVEN guys. If one of them messes up the whole play is lost, which means potentially the game is gone. It taught me how to trust people and work with them.

When I started battle rapping I got a lot of comments asking where I was. I said Dallas. They’d keep staring, as if I hadn’t answered the question.

It wasn’t till the ninth or tenth person asked me “what were you doing there” as a follow-up to a question I thought I’d already addressed that I realized they meant the crowd being primarily black. They often would say, “I’d never go there.”

I’d always thought racism was trumped up a bit in America by the liberal media to get more clicks and views, but this was a wake-up call. I’d just thought it was cool I was allowed to go battle closer to the real culture. They saw something else.

My coaches in football were African-American and so were many of the star players. My best coach would always talk to us about the value of hard work, study, and self-reliance. There were many times I thought I was about to break down and he’d switch from disciplinarian to realist. “I know you got more than that!” he’d scream at me. It was jarring, because he rarely had to raise his voice to get through to us.

It lit something in me.  He taught my friends and I that the limits we imposed on ourselves were a joke. We learned how to work together, whites, Mexicans, and African-Americans, as a team. Many people I know from football do really well in business because they can work with all people, accept instruction, and recognize (eventually) when they’re just making excuses.

I would never take back those years. And that’s hard for me to say.

I have been taken out of games from taking a headshot. I’ve gone to hospitals for head trauma after a street fight. I’ve been pretty banged up at metal concerts. On top of all that, I’ve drank myself to a vomiting black out probably 50+ times. I’ve done a number of amphetamines and downers.

I lose track of my place in a sentence all the time. Before I took medication I was an emotional roller coaster. My memory was constantly off. It nearly ruined my poker career.

I can remember how good my memory was before the drugs and after football. I know how it is now. I felt very good about my recall after football and wrestling.

If anyone experienced what I experienced because of football I’d be really concerned, but I had some worst-case-scenarios happen when I was a kid. I got laid out. I felt fine for years afterward. Perhaps those incidents contributed later, but I doubt it. The research seems to indicate there’s a good deal to be relieved about when it comes to football players.

Furthermore, what other options do many of these young men have? You’re going to take away their dreams and life lessons based on research which doesn’t completely align?

I’ve heard so many mothers say, “I made my kid play soccer because football is too dangerous.” I could never do such a thing to an innocent child.

Soccer to me is the antithesis of a life lesson. If you make an excuse for your behavior in American football you’re mocked. Soccer has players flopping and whining to an authority figure about how unfair it is. Definitely not my game.

Things are looking up though. I read about this new invention recently. They’re head trauma sensors that indicate how hard your head was hit. You get pulled out of the game the second it flashes a warning. The company is saying they see kids playing much more safely because they don’t want to be pulled from the game. Awesome.