As I learn to twit [tweet] and observe a lot of commentary on social media, I am still amazed at the lack of knowledge regarding subconcussions, contact sports and the links to mental illness. It is crazy to me that the people I follow, PHd’s, PAs, ATs, researchers, parents and athletes are understanding the issues of early onset dementia, CTE and mental illness but continue to portray this as a concussion related issue.
Where does the lack of education and understanding come from?
There are hardly any mentions of subconcussive blows and no mention of brain damage because of long-term exposure to repeated head injuries.
These people lead the way in many areas, are people I respect, or pray for in the case of other parents and injured athletes, but the issue remains untouched.
The momentum seems to be growing, especially in Europe, regarding the connection between contact sports and dementia/mental illness. Some articles mention subconcussive trauma! It is my hope that, as Europe continues to lead the pace in addressing health related issues and their populations are a bit more progressive than here in the U.S. that these lawsuits may be successfully resolved on behalf of the players and bring momentum to change here in the US.
Like the NFL settlement, the lawsuits tend to focus on early onset dementia and other neurological disfunctions, and mention depression and anxiety, which is a step towards identifying mental illness as an outcome of repeated head injuries. This takes the lawsuit a step further than the NFL settlement where dementia must be proven, and mental illnesses do not qualify for compensation. While many NFL players are known to have dementia, proving that is hard, right now only 30% of claims have been approved. A win in Europe for mental illness will be hard to deny here in America and could prove problematic for the NFL.
Talking with friends and some docs, it appears the blast of pressure I felt and these symptoms are associated with second impact syndrome, a sometimes fatal condition that arises from two concussive hits that are relatively close together that can lead to possible serious injuries, I don’t know why I wasn’t dropped that day, maybe the second hit wasn’t all that bad, maybe I didn’t have any broken vessels in my head (usually this condition has significant internal bleeding), who knows. When you look into it, it’s kind of scary. Not really afraid to die, my son is waiting me, but still…..
Then, this month, I spent the whole month around my youngest family members, my nephews and their kids and my daughters and my new grandson and will spend time with my to be other grandson (Andi!!!) when I realized that I better start living for them and not risk my health.
What kind of grandpa will I be, drooling from a wheelchair?
So, I decided then, as my first grandson was born, and I was watching from afar…to hang up them old boots.
Time to live for others.
Like all athletes, this also hurts in another way. I am 60 and have been playing on the field since that day in the gym when I was 30 years old. That’s 30 years of playing with some of the finest men I have ever met. Men I have bled with, fought with, drank with, chased girls with (when I was younger honey!) and have created stories and (and myths!) of renown. These men are my brothers, they have served their country with me, done business with me, raised money for charities together and have blessed me with their humor, humility, loyalty, their integrity and their honor. They were the ones that came across the country when my son Mac left us behind to hug me, comfort me and remember him. They knew him, they mentored him at tournaments, taught him how to pour keg beer, told him stories that only he can tell. Only rugby players can make a dad smile in a time of such suffering and loss, and it was their presence and love that, quite possibly, kept me alive afterwards.
I love these men.
This is also the reason that my son Mac is not here. Almost as much as his family, Mac loved his teammates and his coaches.
He loved spending time with them, going on wrestling and football trips, staying in hotels, just he and the guys. There were his friends, they came over to our house and he went to theirs.
He loved them so much, he could not let them down, just couldn’t. So, he continued to play and suffer, and in those last years, when it hurt the most, like a great athlete, he put his head down and kept playing. Till he could not play anymore.
What a guy.
But it is time to move to another team, the social one. I have two torn rotator cuffs that I will NOT fix, osteoarthritis in every joint of my body, neck and back pain, a ruptured hamstring that has not healed in 3 or 4 years, and according to the VA, probably some brain damage from 30 years of play. (They asked me if had any scars, I said look at my eyebrows). Not complaining, I still can run, lift and ruck with the pain, and will, but I can’t jeopardize my health anymore nor the time I want to spend with these kids. In the absence of Mac, they are my world…and I must live for them till I see Mac again. It’s also a good reason to buy a bigger boat!
I also must keep serving Mac and all the kids like him who have been hurt through years of subconcussive exposure and trauma.
Through his loss, he and the Lord have led me on a path of understanding that has led to a foundation, a book, a documentary (in development) and will lead to continued presence on parents, government, schools and sports organization to effect change.
Mac and others like him should be here, and we need to inform and educate society so that other parents do not share our pain.
So, to my mates, I’m sorry.
Like any military brother or athlete, I feel I’m letting you down. It will suck watching you continue to play knowing I want, with all my heart to be out there, but I won’t. I’ll bring you beers, I’ll play the bagpipes, I’ll even massage your tired legs, back and shoulders (and that’s all!) but I won’t be out there for the first time in 30 years, and I will miss that more than anything. Even as a Sergeant Major I had to realize that I couldn’t have all the fun, but I can damn sure support it and take care of you all and I’ll still have my boots on!