It’s that time of year again when we kick off the holiday season with Thanksgiving and football bowl games. It’s a time to give thanks and enjoy time with family and friends. Many people participate in the overconsumption of food and drink while watching the overconsumption of concussions and sub-concussive hits that youth, high school, college and professional players have endured all season and possibly for the rest of their lives.
I played in several youth and high school Thanksgiving bowl games against teams from California, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. It was a fun and rewarding way to end a winning season full of hard work, and hard hits, many of which resulted in concussions. The only thing that made the bowl games better was if it was snowing or raining during the game.
I didn’t play in the bowl game my junior year of high school because three weeks earlier I quit the team after severely injuring myself while playing with a concussion during the last regular season game. I remember watching the bowl game on the local cable channel alone while suffering from the effects of that concussion. Oh how everyone was excited to be playing in the snow-covered field while I was in post-concussion hell!
None of us were taught to recognize the symptoms of a concussion or the need to take them seriously. We were taught to turn on our aggressive behavior during practices and games, but it was hard for me to turn it off once I left the playing field. Add in thousands of sub-concussive hits and at least 13 concussions over a decade and it was a recipe for disaster on the field and in the classroom.
I remember having increased depression and anxiety after every sports concussion. Not being able to talk to anyone about the post-concussion symptoms I was having only made the situation worse.
Without any peer support, medical treatment or assistance from the school to help me “Return to Learn” in the classroom, I dropped out of high school my junior year. Several months later I attempted suicide and was prevented from doing so by a family member.
After surviving my suicide attempt, I returned to the football field before returning to the classroom.
Once again, nobody questioned my decision to play, how I was doing mentally, physically, cognitively, etc. or if I needed any accommodations / 504 plan to help me in the classroom.
Once school began, I realized that I had no choice but to focus solely on healing my brain and academics instead of injuring it playing football or failing my junior year for the second time.
They say there’s no I in Team, but there’s an I in Concussion. It’s a very painful, confusing and lonely place to be, especially for a brain-injured student-athlete with no peer or academic support.
How did I finally break free and move forward?
1. I asked adults who understood what I was suffering from for help.
2. I surrounded myself with peers who didn’t judge me and wanted me to live a healthy lifestyle.
3. I focused on academics, behavior and relationship building.
4. I exercised (walking, jogging and running) and did Yoga and meditation.
5. I began helping and educating others about concussions.
As fall sports come to a close, it’s imperative that States work on finding a way for all brain-injured children to Return to Learn in the classroom while dovetailing it with existing Return to Play laws. Ensuring a child gets the right amount of rest immediately after a concussion, appropriate exposure to schoolwork and play every step of the way, as well as peer support, will help make their road to recovery a lot better than what I had experienced many years ago.