NASCAR’s most popular driver talks about concussions, coming back, and the price of “pushing through”.
In a new ad and video to raise awareness about concussions, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the man who is often seen as the face of NASCAR, is adding his voice to those in the NFL and other sports who want people to know that head injuries are nothing to just shake off.
Let’s back up a moment.
This year has been huge in this area as studies have been released about the long-term effects of concussions on people who take head impacts week after week, who may suffer from numerous small concussions over many years. That there is irreversible brain injury is no longer in question, although the effects of that are still being debated.
But what about people, professional athletes or average joes, who take a few hard hits to the head? The ones who are left feeling “not right”, but who push themselves to keep going, only to be injured again?
There’s been intense focus on whether violent acts by NFL players could be the result of these injuries.
But what about the effect on everyday lives?
In his video Earnhardt, better known just as “Dale, Jr.”, says,
“I’ve had concussions before but this was just so different…I felt very trapped inside my head…I got to Talledega about four weeks after that crash…[after a hard crash] I got out of the car and thought, ‘Something’s wrong with my head again.’ I was really moody, very angry, I couldn’t go anywhere where people were, I was very scared.”
He was taken out of two races for recovery, and now advocates for concussion awareness and rehabilitation.
So why does what Junior says matter?
In his video, he says what a lot of other guys think, the words “Man up”, and how this affected him.
Most of us have heard those words. Stopping is weakness, showing pain is weakness, showing fear is weakness. It’s unmanly. You push through the pain. Pick yourself up. Tough it out. You don’t want to disappoint anyone, not your coaches or managers or fans or yourself. You don’t want to give your enemies and rivals anything to use against you. So you suck it up and go on.
NASCAR drivers fought against the mandate that they take a ride to the care center after any crash. Pride is as much at stake as prize money.
But this is what stuck with me watching this video, and it’s something that everyone who plays a sport, or is in any situations where concussions are a risk, should consider:
“I look back at the decisions I made in the past, to ‘man up’, to make it, you know, make it though on my own. It almost cost me my career, it almost cost me my, you know, my happiness…the care that I got at [ ] got me back to doing what I love to do.”
Most of us will never be football players. Most of us will never drive 200 miles per hour.
But any of us could be have our heads hit, anytime, multiple times.
With the potential for long-term brain injury, and even short-term changes in personality and actions that can negatively affect our lives and the lives of people around us, we all need to take concussions seriously.
Dale Jr. came back to full racing form and campaigned for all drivers to have baseline tests at the beginning of the racing season so that if they got a concussion in season, scans could be compared to determine what damage had been done and what the best treatment options would be. Drivers have been benched for head injuries.
Maybe seeing this icon who is still competing and winning, open up about this cost of silence will make other men – and athletes – a little more willing to stop and think about what’s happening – literally – inside their heads.
For more about concussions and the Rethink Concussions campaign, visit RethinkConcussions.com.
Junior’s :30 ads will begin airing during World Series Baseball, Martinsville and Homestread races, and evening news broadcasts.
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