Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Be good to yourself…
In some of my past blog entries I’ve spoken a great deal about neurological issues, more specifically concussion awareness and other traumatic brain injury issues. In this entry, I am going to “table” my passion for speaking on those issues I normally address. Instead, I would like to encourage all who read this to be good to yourself.
With so much going on in the everyday task of living life many of us don’t take the opportunity to stop and “smell the roses” so to speak. From morning to night most of us (including myself) don’t always take a moment to count our blessings. We all are inundated with all types of communication and social media like emails, Facebook, Instagram, texting, work, commuting, etc. I know that many who will read this might not devote even 2 seconds to improve their general health and well-being because they are just too busy to focus on anything else. That being said, I would like to share a short personal story that might or might not be meaningful to you.
I have a gentleman friend that I've worked out with in my gym for 20 plus years. My friend is a World War II Veteran, a former Prisoner of War, a Silver Star Medal Recipient and is now almost 94 years old. Whenever I walk into my gym and find that he is there before I do anything else I approach him, stand at attention and give him a salute. He salutes me back and then we begin to talk. While I have never served in the military I took ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) courses in high school a long time ago. That salute is my daily greeting to my friend but it is also a sign of the respect that I have for him.
Unfortunately, my friend is now at a place where age is catching up with him. We no longer workout together as he is now confined to a senior assistant living facility near my home. Several months ago, I went to see him and he mentioned that he had not been outside of the facility for 6 or 7 weeks. I told him to put a jacket on and preceded to take him outside. While it was still a little cool with brisk temperatures, when he felt the fresh air and the bright rays of the sun hit his face I could see new life in his face and what seemed like a shot of adrenaline to his spirit. Both he and I continue to talk about that experience and while it lasted for a mere 5 minutes we both know that it was not about the quantity of time we spent together it was more about the quality of that time. Being confined to a room in the facility and not being able to do the simple things he used to be able to do has taken a toll on my friend.
One of the best and truest lessons I learned from playing football is this. Everything in your life can change in the blink of an eye. I’ve seen many players make one wrong turn on the field and their knee or ankle is no longer the same. So, I try my best to never take anything (especially time) for granted. Not a day, not an hour and not a minute do I take for granted. While my friend is almost 94 years old, our 5 minutes in the sun inhaling the fresh air re-enforced my understanding of what is valuable and yet does not cost a thing.
Regardless of your age I encourage you to Live Your Life to the best of your ability. Take a mini-break from phones, emails and texting. Make time to spend some “alone time” to take a walk near a pond or a body of water. And if you do, take that time to smell the fresh air and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. Be good to yourself at least for a few moments a week and always remember that every minute that goes by is a minute that will never happen again.
For more than two decades, Harry Carson has devoted himself to raising awareness about the effects of head trauma from football and other contact sports. In this article published May 22, the New York Daily News chronicles Carson's personal journey to spread understanding about the long-term effects of these injuries.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
"Suffering vs Managing"
In sharing my personal experiences with concussions with others and as a traumatic brain injury survivor, I understand that many who read my story but more importantly those who write my story might not fully understand the words used to describe my experiences. When I was diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome in 1990 it was a relief because I originally thought I had a brain tumor. I had no full understanding of what it was as I can remember asking my doctor, "will I live"? He smiled and said "you'll live but you will have to learn to manage it". So, for more than 25 years I've lived, I've learned and I have done my best to manage something that I acquired a very long time ago. One of the things I can definitively say is I have never considered myself as one to "suffer" from Post Concussion Syndrome. Like a good patient I've followed the instructions of my doctor to "manage" my condition and in doing so I live what I consider to be a pretty "normal" life. In living that "normal" life I make time to exercise often, I eat healthy foods and drink lots of water and fluids. I do my best to get plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations that could trigger a headache. More importantly because I have been diagnosed with a brain injury I understand that I often might look at things differently than someone who has not sustained a head injury.
Unfortunately some reporters, writers or people who have recently delved into the world of Concussions, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy , Traumatic Brain Injuries or even Post Traumatic Stress Disorder issues too often paint a doom and gloom picture of individuals living with those conditions. What I don't necessarily care for and what burns me up are the writers and reporters who willfully embellish the severity of the condition to sensationalize it for the sake of drawing greater attention to their article or story and paint the subject of the article as a very "sympathetic" figure the reader should feel sorry for. When I do any interview with members of the media, especially the sports media who generally are not up to speed with medical or neurological issues, I now make certain to emphasize that I do not "suffer" from Post Concussion Syndrome! Instead, I "manage" my life quite nicely, thank you! I actually enjoy sharing what I know with others on sports related concussions to at least give them an insight into a subject many have no true understanding. Anytime I consent to do an interview, sit on discussion panels, lecture groups or speak with anyone who would like to learn more about the long term effects of head trauma I make certain to emphasize what Dr. Kutner shared with me but with my own little spin "You can live with the condition, you just need to know how to manage it.
Fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, I have the opportunity on a daily basis to share with many who have joined the ranks of those who have sustained some type of brain trauma or brain injury. The spectrum of individuals effected is wide and greater than most people think. From young kids who were concussed playing a contact sport like youth ice hockey and Pop Warner or pee-wee football dealing with headaches to once world class athletes who are now Hall of Fame former athletes dealing with memory problems that stems from head injuries sustained many years ago. From members of the military who have survived bomb blasts and are now Wounded Warriors to average everyday women and men of all ages who been in automobile accidents or have slipped and fallen striking their heads damaging their brains. The message I share with all is "manage your condition, refuse to suffer".
Continue to live the best life you can...!
For more than two decades, Harry Carson has devoted himself to raising awareness about the effects of head trauma from football and other contact sports. In this article published May 22, the New York Daily News chronicles Carson's personal journey to spread understanding about the long-term effects of these injuries.
Monday, December 15, 2016
Some things cannot be hidden...!
I played the game of football a very long time ago! And when I played I will acknowledge that I was pretty damn good at what I did on the football field. I think I have a very good eye for players who have talent especially those who play the same position I played many years ago. I know that in playing the middle or inside linebacker positions as I played you have to possess a certain degree of toughness to take on blocks from players who are bigger and perhaps stronger but also be able to be (in essence) a "heat seeking missile" to get to and tackle the player who has the football. Bottom line and I mean no disrespect to any other players on the football field, the middle linebacker has to set the tempo and be the fearless leader for the defense. When I see players who can rise to the highest level of the game at that position I have to give them my respect. Such is the case of Luke Kueckly the middle linebacker of the Carolina Panthers. Kuechly is an outstanding team player and is a player many younger players on all levels of football try to emulate to project their style of playing defense.
I've had some of the best defensive coaches in college and professional football teach me how to be the best at the position and while I've never had a desire to coach others what I know is well ingrained in my mind. Or as I like to say, "what I know, I know for pretty damn sure"! What those coaches taught me helped and inspired me to get to the top of my game and ultimately elected and inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame. So, when I see players like Kueckly play I can clearly see the talent that has made him a Defensive Player of the Year in the National Football League. That is no small feat for any player.
If you've read my blogs here before you should know that I have been a very strong and vocal advocate regarding sports related concussions and traumatic brain injuries. As I and others like me have spoken up in regard to this issue, many (especially those who have a vested interest in contact sports like football) have pushed back hard as they feel that what I and others say regarding concussions is an "attack" on football. For several years now, more and more information has been disseminated in documentaries like "League of Denial" or the movie "Concussion" on the possible long term effects of sports related concussions. What is even more interesting is now more and more former athletes who have played contact sports are speaking up on the neurological issues they might be experiencing. As a result more families (especially mothers) are opting for their children to play non-contact sports where the risk of concussions are less prominent. The "push back" against me and others is being done to promote and justify the sport of football. Promoting football from the highest levels is being done to convince parents that the game is safer now more than any other time since the beginning of the sport. A lot of effort has gone into trying to reshape the game into one that is safe for children of all ages to play.
Unfortunately, for people like me who know what we know for pretty damn sure we get pushed aside or ignored because others have a larger platform. With that larger platform comes the truth in pixels and big screen televisions that cannot be denied. On a recent Thursday Night Football telecast the Carolina Panthers player Luke Kuechly was in on a tackle where one of his linebacker mates accidentally hit him on the back of his helmet. What followed was something I had never seen on any level of football. Kuechly could not get up after the play, he sat on the field turf while the medical staff examined him. The viewing audience both live in the stadium as well as the millions who watched at home held its collective breath wondering if he was okay. And then the television cameras zoomed in on his face. He was crying uncontrollably as a result of being concussed on the play. I've seen a lot of football but I have never seen a player actually cry uncontrollably. From the reaction of many fans, viewers and members of the media after watching what unfolded it seems many in those groups felt the same way. The play Kuechly was involved in and the aftermath was on display for the world to see in high definition. A traumatic brain injury, to one of the most dominate defensive players in professional football refuted and revealed what many in positions of power have tried their best to suppress. One play showed parents, especially mothers, that the game of football was not safe for one of the best defensive players nor is it safe for their young children to play. What happened to Luke Keuchly is far from being a mark on his strength or manhood. It is a mark that he is human and a realization that anyone at anytime in a contact sport like football can lose themselves and their ability to control their emotions once the brain is injured.
I've always felt that when you speak the truth it might not be welcomed or appreciated by some, but it will always come out, no matter how long or how much it is covered up or suppressed. The truth will always be revealed! Certain things like concussions in a contact sport like football cannot be hidden in spite of denials or push back when it is on full display for the world to see in high definition. There are football players like former San Francisco 49ers Linebacker Chris Borland who did his own research, saw enough with his own eyes and opted to retire. He and several other former players who have "prematurely" retired were not willing to risk their neurological health and well being to entertain football fans. While these former players have retired they might not necessarily be out of the woods in regard to neurological issues. Because, in a small study of young or recently former NFL Players, researchers at Johns Hopkins report finding some evidence of brain injury that is visible on imaging from the players compared to a group of men without a history of concussion. This new research builds on a rising tide of anecdotal evidence and a few scientific studies suggesting that people with repeated concussive head injuries incurred while playing football, hockey or boxing are at higher-than-normal risk of developing the neuro-degenerative disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is associated with memory deficits, confusion, poor decision-making and later onset of dementia.
I personally speak of what I know because I've lived through my own experiences. I played a sport during a time when very little was known about concussions and traumatic brain injuries. When I played there was absolutely no connection between the hits players took to the head, the "dings" or concussions players sustained then but subsequently developed neurological ailments that have led to ALS, dementia or Alzheimer's disease later in life. Unfortunately, my life experiences now include the health issues of former coaches I have maintained friendships with since beginning my football playing days. Some of those coaches either have passed away or are now living with neurological issues. What has not surprised me is that those coaches who played football suffered from dementia or Alzheimer's disease now or before passing away. While I never saw them play the game personally I can clearly sense what may have brought on their conditions that have left their wives now in the role of care givers.
Unfortunately, because we are a visual society, Luke Kuechly is now the face of concussions in football and contact sports on every level of football. Any one who saw him being carted off the field will always remember the look on his face. This latest concussion sustained was his second in the last 2 years that caused him to miss playing time. If he sustains another concussion within the next year, his playing career in the National Football League most likely will be in serious jeopardy. While much attention will be on Kuechly, there are many athletes participating in a variety of sports that are concussed yearly. For the record, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, anywhere from 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions happen each year in the U.S. because of sports or recreational activities. Not to mention those who have served in the military and are wrestling with the effects of TBI. According to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, 352,619 service members worldwide have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000, the majority of these cases being mild TBI. In addition, psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety and major depressive disorders, are becoming common in military personnel with brain injuries. Researchers have found that a disruption of the circuitry in the brain's cognitive-emotional pathways may provide a physical foundation for depression symptoms in some service members who have suffered mild traumatic brain injury in combat.
Whether a concussion or a traumatic brain injury stems from a bomb blast during military service, an automobile accident or a sports related concussion at any level, once the brain is injured there is absolutely no guarantee that the brain will heal itself to where it was before the injury. The unknown information on brain injuries that has come to light as a result of research, personal experiences from those who have lived with neurological issues and now from seeing the effects first hand in high definition of athletes like Luke Kuechly is on full display for any and everyone to see. Eventually, no matter what is done to suppress it, things like the truth cannot be hidden.
The Truth will always come out.
For more than two decades, Harry Carson has devoted himself to raising awareness about the effects of head trauma from football and other contact sports. In this article published May 22, the New York Daily News chronicles Carson's personal journey to spread understanding about the long-term effects of these injuries.
Monday, October 24, 2016
In the blink of an eye...!
I was recently honored by an organization that treat individuals affected by Aphasia with their Advocacy Award for 2016. For those who don't know, Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. The disorder impairs both the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Fortunately Aphasia does not affect one's intellect.
Many times, the cause of the brain injury is a stroke that occurs when blood is unable to reach a part of the brain that controls speech and language. Other causes of brain injury are severe blows to the head, brain tumors, brain infections and other conditions of the brain. With that said, anyone can acquire Aphasia, but most people who have Aphasia are in their middle to late years. Men and women are equally affected. And, it is estimated that almost two million people in the United States currently have the condition.
I was introduced to this condition when I was a teenager. My father suffered 3 strokes over a period of several years. After each stroke I can remember times when he struggled to communicate with members of my family. I also remember the frustration he felt not being able to get the words out to convey his thoughts and wishes. Believe or not, my father was lucky because he eventually recovered from all 3 strokes. At that time I didn't know nor did I understand what he had experienced and I didn't know the name of the condition. I only knew that it was a stroke.
My second introduction to the condition was almost 15 years later when a former girlfriend from college suffered a stroke at the age of only 34. While she sustained a paralysis on her left side she also was diagnosed with Aphasia. Now, every year we send each other birthday cards. With every card I receive from her I am reminded of her struggles to communicate.
My third and perhaps more personal introduction to Aphasia is one that hits home for me. At times during my professional football career I struggled to find the right words to complete my thoughts doing interviews with the media covering my team. I felt my own frustrations and even embarrassment but it was something I kept to myself. While I was experiencing my own communication problem and while it was not on the same level as someone who suffered a catastrophic stroke or was in a near fatal automobile accident I eventually realized that my neurological issues were a result concussions sustained on the playing fields.
The experiences I've outlined have helped to fuel my desire to speak out on all Traumatic Brain Injury issues. A reason I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this topic is to emphasize that I know (at least to some degree) what it's like to literally lose my voice and become unable to express what I would like to say. But I also know that regardless of who you are, what gender, race, color, religion or how wealthy or poor you are, in the blink of an eye your life can be changed significantly. Life and the ailments that come with living do not discriminate. I know too many people who have been affected by a traumatic brain injury. Whether that TBI was initiated by a stroke, an automobile accident, from playing a contact sport or a bomb blast for a soldier, once your brain is injured you will most likely see the world from a much different perspective.
Unfortunately for many who read this, Aphasia and other Traumatic Brain Injuries will mean nothing, until they are affected......!
Monday, August 1, 2016
Making Living Life a Priority
I consider myself very fortunate. I say that because as I live my life I recognize that I am at a stage where I can pick and choose the things I want to do. Conversely, if I don't want to do certain things I can politely say "no" and move on. That's me and my situation. I am very much aware that not everyone has that freedom of choice and options.
I open this blog saying this because I just recently went through what most mothers and fathers go through on a daily basis, parenting. I just spent a little more than a week being "Pop Pop" to my grandchildren. I can never say "No" to the opportunity to spend time with them. My granddaughter is 10 years old and is my Princess and my grandson is 6 and is very much like a Tornado. I call them my "Puddin" and my "Package" and I love them to death! They are the beat of my heart. The time I get to spend with them during the summer I truly treasure. The time with them also brings me back to a reality that I forget at times (especially at my age). When you have kids in the house who get bored easily and especially a 6 year old young man who has an abundance of energy I realize that my time is not necessarily my time anymore. Having my grandkids with me for a week makes me super cognizant of what most parents go through every day especially during summer vacation when kids are out of school. I usually work out in my gym several days a week but the energy level needed to physically keep up with young children is tremendous. It's not just being active with them but also includes planning and preparing meals. I can clearly see how a parent can opt for fast foods that might not necessarily be the healthiest choice to eat instead of a well thought out healthy meals.
Now, I say all of that to get to this one point. Not that I didn't know before but being with my grandchildren around the clock for that week showed me how easy it is for me to neglect myself. Whether it was being so tired entertaining or running after them all day that I didn't feel like going to the gym or getting away from eating healthy for fast food I could totally understand how easy it is to get off track managing life and children. For most parents who work full time jobs and still have to manage their family life I know it is a lot of work. But I want to encourage you to find a way to contribute to your own health and well being. According to the Center for Disease Control, physical activity among adults remained low. When activity of adults is low the doors to ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular disease among other conditions are opened simply because of sedentary lifestyles. Get up and get move, whether it's Meditation, Yoga, Stretching early in the morning or visiting a gym, health club or taking a "brisk" walk at lunchtime or some type of physical activity after work even with the kids helps. In a nutshell, doing something is better than doing nothing. And remember that aside from time, the best gift every parents can give their child or children is a healthy parents.
Most grandparents I know say the following about being a grandparent. "It's great to have the grand kids, to love on and spoil but it feels even better to give them back to their parents at some point". For me, that is when I really enjoy making living my life a priority!
Monday, May 23, 2016
Still Banging the Drum!!!!
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 judgment on anyone else but I "value" and "treasure" my grandson much too much to take that risk!
Monday, February 29, 2016
Brain Injury Awareness Month
The month of March is designated "Brain Injury Awareness Month". I applaud that recognition for the condition. But for someone who is and has been effected by some type of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), every month and even every day brings an ever increasing sense of Brain Injury Awareness. I posted in this blog a couple of months ago that the effects of brain injury might not matter until you or a family member are effected in some way. I have to be honest and acknowledge that if I had not been effected by this issue as a result of the hits I gave and took on the football field the significance of the recognition might not be of such high importance to me. So, I truly speak from experience and I get it!
I am involved with quite a few projects and causes that take up a lot of my time but I am very much “keyed in” on what is happening in the Brain Injury Awareness world especially as it pertains to current and former football players on all levels of the sport. I know all too well that physical injuries to parts of the body can be surgically repaired, rehabilitated and in time players can get back on the field and even (in some instances) play better than they did before their physical injury that sidelined them. The human body is amazing from that standpoint. But, that is not necessarily the case for players sustaining concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. Physically the body might feel fine but if and when there is some type of cognitive decline, such as the inability to process information in a very short span of time, that player becomes a liability and must give up the game. It is at that point that Brain Injury Awareness becomes more of a focal point to a football player along with his family.
Whether it’s the athlete on the field, a soldier in the military, an individual involved in an automobile accident that injures the head or spinal cords of the driver or passenger or even a senior citizen who merely walks out of their home, to their driveway to pick up the morning newspaper in winter and slips on an icy surface, falls and hit their head, in every walk of life we all are vulnerable to a Brain Injury. Just as I referenced earlier the athlete being able to re-bound from a physical injury, most people can withstand knee, back, ankle injuries. Unfortunately, the brain is the one organ of the body that we cannot afford to injure or damage.
I want to strongly encourage you to not jeopardize your health and well being by not exercising good judgment in your daily walk of life. Once you lose your ability to do all of the things your brain allows you to do, you might not be able to reverse that course.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Until It Happens To You!
Since I was diagnosed 25 years ago with Post Concussion Syndrome I have tried to be an open and honest voice for others who have had to deal with traumatic brain injury on some level whether the cause of the condition was sports related, as a result of an automobile accident or a simple slip and fall striking the head. I know first hand of the neurological challenges one can experience once the human brain is injured.
I'm not a doctor and I'm not a medical expert on the issue of traumatic brain injuries but I do know what I have experienced personally. Using my college education (with heavy emphasis in the human sciences) I've listened to my own body and have paid pretty close attention to others (especially those who have played contact sports like football) to see how concussions may have effected their lives after leaving their respective sport. All that I've spoken of since sharing my own diagnosis a quarter century ago regarding concussions and the long term after effects has come to light and is on the minds of many with the National Football League offering a settlement worth over a billion dollars to many former players who brought lawsuits against the League. Documentaries such as League of Denial have aired to provide information of former athletes who wanted attention to be drawn to the case of head trauma and contact sports. Now a full length movie is hitting the big screen to document the discovery of CTE by Dr. Bennet Omalu.
I know Dr. Omalu personally and know his story first hand from a conversation we had over dinner several years ago. His research was done and the discovery was made because others in similar positions failed to dig deeper to gain a better understanding of why former football players committed suicide thinking they might have been going crazy. Dr. Omalu is a mild mannered man who was naive enough to think that by going to the NFL to share his finding that he would be welcomed. Instead individuals associated with the League tried to discredit and marginalize him and his discovery. Now a movie will tell his story for all interested in hearing and learning more about CTE.
Unfortunately, knowing the sports culture of fans in this country much like the NFL, many people will not want to listen or even care. Most of those who will be disinterested want and love their football no matter what the cost to those on the field will paid neurologically. The entertainment of watching their favorite team and players supersede the head trauma they might see in a game or witness in a movie. Most people don't and won't care about Dr. Omalu's findings. They won't care until it happens to them!
When I first started talking about my issues with Post Concussion Syndrome people thought I was crazy to even acknowledge my condition. There were even a couple of former players who laughed when they heard my story. "What's the big deal? We all played with "dings"! So? They laughed until they started experiencing the lingering effects of those "dings" they played through whether it was in high school, college or in their professional football days. Those players are now very much concerned about their own lives and futures and most of them were plaintiffs against the NFL in the lawsuit.
Over the years I've found that there is a stigma to acknowledge anything "brain injury" related. To many, the subject of traumatic brain injury means nothing until it happens to them or someone in their family. Most football fans think that players know or should have known that head injuries are a part of the game. Unfortunately I and many of my predecessors and contemporaries never got that "memo" of the possible long term effects of hits to the head. I'm pretty sure we all knew we could get seriously hurt physically when we played but we, quite frankly, did not know that our brains could be injured long term playing football. Because of Dr. Omalu's research and findings we now know that there is a connection between hits to the head from contact sports and dementia, Alzheimer Disease and ALS.
Because of my advocacy on the TBI subject I've met many people in football and other contact sports who never thought about brain injury until it affected or happened to them or a family member. Fortunately for many who play contacts a sprained ankle, strain ligament or even a broken bone can heal in a timely fashion, unfortunately we only have one brain and once it is injured there is no guarantee that it will heal immediately and there is certainly no guarantee of lingering long term effects in later years.
25 Years ago I never knew that with my Post Concussion diagnosis I would be speaking on a neurological issue that very few people had heard of. It was very real and was one that science had to catch up with almost 15 years ago.
If you are reading this I'm asking every parent who has a child and every grandparent who has a grandchild to make the time to view Dr. Omalu story not to be entertained but to gain a better understanding on the issue of sports related concussions that might not matter to you... Until you are affected!
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Getting Educated On Concussions
I continue to thank Meridian Health for affording me the opportunity to share my thoughts on whatever I’d like that's health related. If you've read my blogs over the past few years you will know that that I am passionate about maintaining good health but I also hold a very keen interest in concussion awareness. This month I would like to share my thoughts on that issue. More precisely, I want to weigh in on the "push back" or criticism that former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland has received on a decision he made.
Last year (2014) Chris Borland was in his first season with the 49ers having graduated from the University of Wisconsin. After an outstanding rookie season he made the choice to retire due to fears of concussions he could have already sustained and the possible future brain damage he could be risking playing football. When Borland made his decision to end his football career, I personally applauded his decision because I knew he took his time and did his own research to educate himself on the possible links of concussions to future neurological problems. He did what he felt he needed to do for his family but more importantly he did what he thought was best for him! I applauded and admired his decision because unlike most football players he was not blinded by the millions of dollars he could have made playing in the National Football League. I applauded his decision because most football players especially young "naive" players do what they are told to do or just follow the crowd and do not necessarily question those who say that the game of football is safe to play. He made up his own mind to step away from professional football.
I could very much relate to Chris Borland as I realized after my career ended that I had experienced some "issues" during and after my football career ended that I found hard to describe. When I was diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome and then educated myself on the issues I realized then that if I was having neurological issues, there were probably many other former players dealing with similar neurological issues. Along my journey after football I came to the stark reality that what I knew about the lingering ramifications of concussion that if I had to do it all over again I would not have done it. I made that decision many years ago but few people noticed or paid attention to my comments. When I became a member of Pro Football Hall of Fame making the statement that I would not have played the game knowing what I know now about concussions did not sit well with many who thought it was sour grapes on my part to make the statement after playing and achieving the ultimate honor as a member of the Hall of Fame.
It's one thing for an older football player who is well over the age of 50 to say what I've gone on record of saying about not playing the game again. It's another thing that Chris Borland a mere rookie, at the beginning of what could have been an outstanding career in the National Football League to make a decision to step away from the game. Many fans who love football have cast Borland as "a quitter" "soft", "self centered", "a traitor" and ultimately a dangerous voice that could negatively influence the game. Rabid football fans love the game whether it's high school, college or professional football and consider their team to be "their team" and unfortunately they prefer their players on the field to just shut and just play. What Chris Borland did last spring by retiring goes against the grain of what 99% of the other professional football players would do. In my opinion what Chris Borland did for his own well being took courage, integrity and showed his intelligence to research, digest the information and come to his own conclusion.
Every football fan who never knew who Chris Borland was before should know who he is now. And for every parent who is indecisive as to whether they should allow their son to play football or not they should do what Chris Borland did. They should look at all of the information on the relationship between concussions and the long lasting associated effects of traumatic brain injuries before making a decision. I've never met Chris Borland but I feel we are on the same page. While it is not our intent to destroy the popularity of football, we think it is critically important for parents to have adequate information to educate themselves make the right or best decision for their own family members in regard to playing the game of football.
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!
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Winter is behind us and spring has finally sprung! This is my favorite time of the year. To see flowers blooming, grass getting greener and kids playing outside makes me feel tranquil deed down inside. This is the time of the year with mild temperatures that make me look forward to getting outside with my sleeves rolled up, working in my yard doing all that I can to help restore and maintain it’s beauty. I have to admit that I live in a very beautiful area where very few homeowners personally get out and get their hands dirty or break a sweat. Most homeowners defer that job to landscaping professionals. But every spring I want to do that work myself. I look forward to working and totally enjoying every minute of it because the experience puts me in touch with my property, with the soil, grass, trees and my home. I am originally from South Carolina and to an extent my youthful experiences included yard work, so that kind of work has been engrained in me for a long time. I like knowing what needs to done to improve the quality of my home. And I feel that because I am so emotionally invested in my property no one can do a better job of maintaining it especially the small intricate things that make my house “my home” better than me. (At least I would like to believe that in my mind.) I take great pride in making sure that my home and property looks as good or even better than most homes in my neighborhood. The work of maintaining all that needs to be done I have to admit, sometimes is hard work. But I love it! Let me explain.
As much as we live in a more technologically advanced era with so many things created to make our lives easier, nothing takes the place of being outside enjoying nature, breathing fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun, actively moving and exercising muscles I forgot I had. To me it’s the same as maintaining my own body. While I could (if I wanted to) hire someone to maintain my home, I cannot outsource my body to someone else to take care. Many of us (especially those of us who) didn’t get the opportunity to travel to warm spots during winter have been forced to stay inside during the cold and snowy months. As a result, many may have been sitting around doing as little as possible. With that “sedentary” lifestyle brought on by “Old Man Winter” it’s time to get up and get out and use those muscles that are seldom used. Go for a run, a bike ride or a long walk with family and friends, take a dance class or do what I’ve done. As well as going to the gym 3-4 times a week, I’ve started taking a Yoga class once a week. It is true what they say “you’re never too old to begin new experiences”.
It’s interesting that you can see a beautiful home built in any neighborhood. And after a few years with little or no maintenance performed you can readily see that property begin to deteriorate and the value of the property decrease. The same comparison can be made with our bodies. We come into the world with one body, complete with a heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs but if we mistreat or neglect those organs with drugs, alcohol, smoking, eating all of the wrong stuff and with little or no exercise we have no one to blame but ourselves if the quality of our lives is not what we imagined it would be when neglect of self became a habit. I don't want to sound morbid but the reality is, we have a finite or limited time to live our lives here. Looking back I know so many of my friends and acquaintances who are no longer here to enjoy another spring because of conditions like stroke, diabetes and heart related diseases that possibly could have been avoided with proper management.
I love Spring! For me it is the best, not too hot and not too cold. Bird chirping early in the morning and other animals coming out to play. Flowers filling the air with beautiful scents. It’s a time of renewal. Don’t neglect the opportunity take care of you. Make and take the time to renew your spirit, your mind and your body. It’s the only one you have.
Monday, February 23, 2015
If you are an individual who has followed my writing in this blog post for the past couple of years, you should know that my themes are usually two fold. One is a focus on health in general and the other is on head injuries or concussions more specifically. I'm extremely fortunate that Meridian has afforded me the opportunity to have this forum to share my personal thoughts on two topics that I feel very strongly about. I received my college degree in Education and while I spent several decades after graduating from college playing or reporting on the game of football the thoughts of what I was trained in college to do are never too far away from where my passions reside.
I consider myself to be an "observer of life"! When I say that I mean that I live in the present and try to pay attention to the many situations I encounter on an hourly or daily basis. I also tend to learn from my own personal experiences especially mistakes but perhaps more importantly I try to learn from the major mistakes others have made to avoid heartache and pain. I believe this is one of those qualities I probably acquired as a professional football player studying my opponent in preparation for my next game.
I say all of this to develop a point. I travel quite a bit here and around the United States and I come in contact with many segments of the population of this country. Some might say I should "stay in my lane and mind my own business" but I have to speak on what I am observing. While I see so many men and women heading to work each day trading the moments of their lives in exchange for the financial resources to house their families, purchase the automobiles they drive or feed and clothes their children, I also see so many people who neglect their own health and well-being by being obese and failing to exercise. I totally understand that to many the priority is sustaining a quality of life for their families. But what good comes out of us not taking care of ourselves and at some point down the road we are diagnosed with diabetes, hypertension, a heart ailment or a premature death? Being an observer of life I've seen many of my friends from high school, college and from my professional football life work their tails off to only to either be diagnosed with an ailment or pass away prematurely. There has to be a "healthy balance" (work and exercise) put in place for everyone to get some kind of physical activity to combat the stress of work or burn the calories of the foods we ingest.
I feel that I can speak on this topic because I was one of those people who worked in corporate America years ago. At some point I realized that my days were filled with commuting to work, meetings, fulfilling my work obligations and coming home with little time to take care of me at the end of the day. While my head (and the former football player in me) would tell myself to get some exercise, my body would tell me that it was tired and needed rest. There were times when my head won the battle to exercise while there were other times when my body won out and I had to get that rest. When I realized that as years went by my waistline got bigger as well as my blood pressure rose I eventually knew that I had to make some changes in my personal life to live a better quality of life incorporating wellness and exercise. Now I make some type of physical or cardio activity a priority almost everyday around my work. If it means getting up earlier in the morning, blocking out time mid-day to get an hour bike ride or take a power walk, then so be it.
Many of you know that I had a blood clot health crisis last year. It was the first time that I was under a doctor's care for more than a week. I was on blood thinning medication for 6 months. Again, being that 'observer' one thing that I took from that experience is, it is very expenses to get sick! Hospital visits, doctor(s) consultations & diagnoses visits, testing procedures, medication, etc. It is a very expensive proposition to neglect your own health so I feel it is best to practice preventive maintenance to avoid hospital and doctor visits. The best preventive maintenance I can recommend to anyone is a term one of my college football coaches would say as we went through sprints at the conclusion of football practice. "Be good to your body!" is a term I heard countless times and became a motivational term to inspire me and my teammates as we battled through hot and very humid August days in South Carolina getting ready for the beginning of the football season. "Be good to your body" is the best message I can share and leave with you this month. If you are a high school student or athlete, do your best in the classroom and on the field of competition. If you are a man or woman supporting your family, work your tail off and provide for the needs of your loved ones. But everyday (if at all possible) find that balance of work and exercise and "Be good to your body" and your body will be good to you!
Friday, January 2, 2015
I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!
And, I would also like to acknowledge another year working with the good folks at Meridian sharing my experiences with the citizens of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. I look forward to sharing more personal stories to help encourage all of you to engage in positive proactive health practices.
I just turned the page on another birthday. Sometimes members of my family get a little frustrated with me because when it comes to giving me a gift for either my birthday or for Christmas they always ask what I would like and I always come back with “I’m good, I don’t need anything.” During my life I feel very fortunate to have been able to live the quality of life I’ve lived. (This has nothing to do with my football life but just being a man.) At some point (perhaps during my late 40s or at 50) I realized that the best gifts I could ever have can’t be purchased with dollars. The absolute best gifts I have are priceless and are inside of me. Good health in spite of the wear and tear of a long football career makes me one of the lucky guys who played football for as many as 21 years from high school through professional football. But I am very blessed to be able to maintain my will, focus and determination when I decide to do something or go in a certain direction. Such was the case several months ago when I made a decision to "totally focus" my attention on my own well being and health.
In early September I decided to re-dedicate myself to work out in the gym at least 4 - 5 days a week and eat a more balanced Mediterranean type diet. With that diet I basically eliminated sugar (except in my morning latte), I ate more baked/broiled items like fish and chicken, I ate more fruits and vegetables with olive oil playing a more prominent role in my diet instead of butter. And of course no sodas or sugary drinks but more water as my drink of choice. As a result of the re-focused commitment between September and November I’ve lost approximately 18 - 20 pounds. While I felt good before the re-dedication, I really feel great after the weight loss.
I always schedule my yearly physical around my birthday. That was the case this past year as it was scheduled to take place two day before my birth date. What stands out for me with my annual visit with my doctor was the realization that with the weight reduction, my blood pressure reading was the lowest it has ever been in all of my 30 plus years going to my personal physician.
I am a fan of the musical group The Isley Brothers and their song “Harvest for the World.” In the lyrics of the song a line goes “celebrate your life, give thanks for your children.” With my birthday in mind, I realized that the results of the weight/cardio training and the diet was the best gift I could have given myself to celebrate my own life, to give thanks for my children and grand-children and hopefully live a longer and more productive life.
I see so many infomercials on television promoting rapid weight loss programs or some kind of diet looking to lure people who are overweight or need to get in better physical shape. I share this personal story in hopes that if you need some inspiration to get off the couch or just to get moving to lose some pounds, reduce your blood pressure and just feel better overall my story will help to encourage or inspire you. My 20 pounds weight loss was not hard but it does take a mind-set of being focused, determined and disciplined to not give in and give up. If I can do this I’m certain that you can do it as well.
By the way, the one and only negative might be that most of my pants no longer fit because my waist line has gotten smaller. My wife says it’s a good problem to have. LOL….. I agree!
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Late August into September represents the beginning of a new school year for children of all ages. As I’ve grown from childhood to now becoming a “potential” senior (my age might say one thing but the way I actually feel tells me that I’m not quite there yet) I’ve come to my own conclusions on the facts of life (especially my own). Looking back, I am thankful for the choices I made to be active and to participate in various sports prompting me to move and be active as oppose to being sedentary. Those choices to be active long ago continue to influence me to this very day. If I could change one thing about my early journey to share with others especially young people I would say I wish the educational process of learning about my own body and how everything is connected to function appropriately had occurred in my more formative years. To learn about the role of my heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, muscles throughout my body and especially my brain earlier in life would have given me a certain perspective to a greater appreciation for my body.
When I go to the gym I always devote 15 to 20 minutes stretching before doing any exercise or doing any type of cardio program. During those 15 - 20 minutes I twist and bend my torso from an upright position to sitting on the floor pulling my upper body to my ankle, during my stretch time I become re-acquainted with the skin and cells in my legs, ankles and feet. That time devoted to stretching gives me an opportunity to meditate but also focus on areas of my body that I very seldom focus my attention on until there is some kind of pain that demands me to focus my attention in those areas. I often wonder in amazement of how our bodies have evolved and how every organ in our body works in connection with other organs to make us as human beings function. Its interesting that during those moments stretching and viewing those skin cells I never focus on ordinarily it becomes clear to me those cells and the billions or trillions of other cells make up the person I am.
Having played with the New York Football Giants and been Team Captain for 10 years many of my former Teammates call me their "Captain for Life” when we played many years ago. After more than 25 years those Teammates still consider me their “Captain for Life” today. In reality we are all our own Captains for matters pertaining to our lives. More importantly I consider myself to be the Chief Executive Officer of my own life. In essence, I am responsible for every thing that involves me, from managing those skin cells I never focus on to what I ingest to regulate my own weight management. No matter who you are, you are a Captain for Life and the Chief Executive Officer of your own life. You are responsible for you and your life! No one, not even the parents who gave you life and brought you into the world can care for you better than you. As such, you must learn as early as possible how your body works and what it needs to maintain its optimum best to allow you to live your life to the fullest.
I’m not a doctor but I am an “expert" on my own life. I would like to share several basic things I’ve done or haven’t done to get where I am on my life’s journey.
Friday, July 11, 2014
Meridian Health aims to influence the communities we serve to take control and improve their health as we believe that life should not only be longer but also more dynamic and fulfilling. Being Tuned in to Your Health is our way of packaging our health and wellness initiatives to help you live a healthier and happier lifestyle.
Challenge a Friend to a Healthy Competition
Follow the lead of NFL Hall of Famer, Harry Carson and 4-time Olympic Medalist, Christie Rampone! Together with a friend, set some goals, get active and start eating better. Then encourage one another to stick with it. Do it every day and you both win.
Hashtag #MeridianHealthyChallenge to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and 'SHARE' with us on how you're challenging your friends and family to a healthy competition.
Some examples are running a race, healthy diet goals, or trying new physical activities.