Some Things Cannot Be Hidden

December 15, 2016 — By Health Ambassador Harry Carson

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.