KARL HOLMES JR., 22, wide receiver with Arizona State, 2011-12, and Grand Valley State, 2015, has retired from football because of multiple concussions, persistent post-concussion symptoms, and fear of contracting CTE. “The doctor said I was at risk of developing a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.” It was all just part of the game, or so Holmes thought, until he started developing severe headaches after returning home to Pasadena for summer break in May. Then came the memory loss and it was obvious something was really wrong. There was the shot he took during a hitting drill just before his senior year at Muir HS (CA). There was the time he got rocked during an Arizona State practice by his then-teammate Vontaze Burfict, now in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. There was the car accident. And then there was the last one, which came this past spring at Grand Valley State. Holmes doesn’t remember it at all. “I noticed for a certain period of time that I remembered people asking me to do things, but at the time I just couldn’t remember what they asked. I would go back three or four days later and sit back like, ‘He really did ask me that.’ I told my mom that I thought I was starting to forget things.” Headaches, some lasting as long as four days, eventually sent Holmes to the emergency room. That’s when the process of having advance brain tests began. Football was always his beacon of hope. His father, Karl Holmes Sr., is on death row for his role in the infamous 1993 Halloween murders of three young Pasadena boys in a gang retaliation shooting. Holmes isn’t bitter his career is over, several years short of what he had hoped. He holds no grudges against the sport and wants to continue to be a part of it by coaching after he finishes college. “Football just gave me a vision to see something I probably wouldn’t have seen. I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve networked. I’ve been a lot of places because of football. Football has allowed me to go to college. It was a way of repaying my family. Football has taught to me to be humble at all times because any time could be your last snap. I had no idea, no clue to even think that my last snap would be coming any time soon. Unfortunately, I’m not able to keep playing, but I want to go on and coach. I want to give something back to the game. Football is the greatest sport on the planet.”–“Concussions ended Karl Holmes Jr.’s football career at 22″, PasadenaStarNews.com 8/15/15, Aram Tolegian.
ERIK KRAMER, 50, quarterback with Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago and San Diego, 1987-99, shot himself on 8/18/15 in what his former wife, Marshawn Kramer, called a suicide attempt. The two divorced in 2010, with Marshawn telling NBC News: “I know Erik and I would still be together if not for his football injury.” She called it a “brain injury.” “He is a very amazing man, a beautiful soul, but he has suffered depression since he was with the (Chicago) Bears,” Kramer said. “I can promise you he is not the same man I married.” Kramer spent five seasons with the Bears, three with Detroit and one each with Atlanta and San Diego (plus three with Calgary in the CFL). He started 67 games over his 10-year career, throwing for 15,337 yards, 92 touchdowns and 79 interceptions. Kramer’s son, Griffen, died of a heroin overdose in 2011. A quarterback at Thousand Oaks High School in California at the time, Griffen Kramer had battled drug abuse in the past. The couple has another son, 17-year-old Dillon. Marshawn Kramer said Erik Kramer is a wonderful father who adored his son. “He’s such a good dad and he would not do this to his son,” she said. “This is brain injury.”–“Erik Kramer suffers non-life-threatening gunshot wound, report says”, ESPN.com News Services 8/19/15. “Ex-NFL QB Erik Kramer Wounded in Apparent Suicide Attempt”, NBCnews.com 8/20/15, Andrew Blankstein and Phil Helsel.
JOHN McCLAMROCK, 51, died on 3/18/08 from respiratory problems arising from paralysis caused on 10/17/73 as a junior varsity special teamer with Hillcrest HS (TX). Charging at a Spruce HS ball carrier on the opening kickoff, the 17-year-old junior broke his neck when his face struck the opponent’s thigh. The tackle left McClamrock paralyzed from the neck down, unable to lie with his head elevated off a flat bed, or even sit in a wheel chair, for the rest of his life. Doctors initially were unsure whether he would survive the trauma, but his mother, Ann McClamrock, rejected suggestions that the family place him in a nursing home or other institution for quadriplegia victims. Instead she brought her son home and devoted the rest of her life to his daily care in his own bedroom. She remained by John’s bedside day and night for the next 35 years, reading and watching television with him, feeding him, and tending to his health and hygiene needs. When she left the room or went outside for church or shopping, it was only for an hour or two at a time. It was “a wonderful life together,” mother and son agreed. For more than three decades, Ann never thought of herself as a hero. “I’m just a mother,” she would say to friends, struck by her devotion. Ann McClamrock collapsed on the morning of John’s funeral, and died eight weeks later.–“Youth Sports Hero of the Month: Ann McClamrock (North Dallas, Texas)”, MomsTeam.com 11/7/10, Douglas E. Abrams, J.D.
ALEX PIERSCIONEK, 19, defensive lineman with South Elgin HS (IL), blacked out after a head-on collision with an offensive lineman and woke up hours later in an emergency room. He had collapsed on the field and was airlifted to the hospital, events he does not remember. He has suffered from headaches, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Pierscionek is suing the Illinois High School Association in an effort to protect future student athletes from concussions.–“Parents face difficult decision when it comes to football and their kids”, Newsday.com 8/10/15, John M. Crisp, Tribune News Service. “Suit Tackles Risk of Concussion in High School Football”, NBCnews.com 5/24/15, John Yang.
SCOTT ROSS, 45, linebacker with New Orleans, 1991, and USC, 1987-90, died on 9/21/14 of extreme hypertension and alcohol poisoning, and was believed to have been dead 7-10 days in a car in a Louisiana church parking lot. Scott Ross was funny and magnetic, life of the party. His was the loudest voice on three Rose Bowl teams at USC, where he was Pac-10 defensive Player of the Year. When he met Laura Fitzgerald, his last girlfriend, he asked her to watch a movie with him. It was “North Dallas Forty,” adapted from Pete Gent’s book about carousing football players and their extreme ambivalence about their game. That, Ross told her, was his story. He was misdiagnosed. He was accepted at mental health facilities and turned away. He lost two marriages. He was drowned in a cascade of pain medication and alcohol. At the end, he was depressed and violent and slept almost around the clock, his parents, Marshall and Janie Ross, said. Todd Marinovich, the USC and NFL quarterback who has journeyed to, and returned from, his own inferno, said, “We’re just serving our youth up for brain damage.” During the course of his marriages Scott’s days of rage became more frequent. He had a degenerative hip problem and was taking highly addictive painkillers, and he was also diagnosed as bipolar, which required more medication. He had jobs, including a good one with 3M, and lost them. Dr. Frank Adams, a retired neurotherapist who was also a psychiatrist, said of Ross’ condition, “This was an extreme case. Dementia is a progressive disease that will eventually kill you.” At times Marshall would see Scott sitting on a curb, crying. At one point he had to break into Scott’s apartment and get him off the floor. “It’s like a dark cloud that’s coming,” Scott would say. “There’s pure evil going on in my head. I have to take a drink or a pill to stop it.” In an effort to help him, his parents took him back into their home. “He would be awake all night long,” Janie said. “He lived for that cellphone, would spend hours talking to his friends. Things would change quickly. One day USC was playing football on TV and he watched, seemed so happy. He was wound up, pacing the floor, yelling. First time we’d seen him happy in a long time. But then he would go berserk. We were afraid physically. I told people that Scott would never hit us…once he got me in a headlock. It scared the daylights out of me. There were nights I had to spend with my girlfriend. We had to ask him to leave.” There was the night Ross found himself on the roof of an apartment building, trying to get in. There was another night he was wearing only a raincoat, driving a tractor in the rain in San Luis Obispo. “He thought it was funny,” Janie said. “But he didn’t remember any of that. He didn’t remember getting physical with me.” Janie does not watch football anymore. Marshall does, with ambivalence.–“Football killed ex-USC LB Scott Ross; His family wants NFL to do more about concussions”, DailyNews.com 8/15/15, LA Daily News, Mark Whicker.
KENNETH BOATRIGHT, 25, defensive end with Seattle and Dallas, 2013-15, collided with offensive lineman Tyron Smith during a pass rush drill on 8/6/15, lay motionless on the field with a neck injury for 10 minutes, was strapped to a board and taken to a hospital. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett was recently criticized by former Cowboys receiver Dwayne Harris for having excessively physical practices. “The physical teams win,” Garrett told reporters, via the Dallas Morning News. “The best teams I have been on were physical. That doesn’t mean they weren’t skillful. That doesn’t mean they couldn’t throw the ball, defend the pass, but they’re physical. I think if you look at all sports, watch the NBA. The best players are physical. They’re sturdy. They’re strong. That goes really in any sport.”–“Cowboys DE Kenneth Boatright hospitalized after suffering neck injury“, SportingNews.com 8/7/15, Ron Clements, Omnisport.
COLBY JORGENSEN, sophomore linebacker with BYU, collided with an offensive player in practice on 8/11/15 and lay motionless on the turf for 20 minutes with a broken neck and a slipped disc. After being attended to by team medical personnel, he underwent emergency surgery later that day for a fracture-dislocation of the cervical spine and had 2 rods inserted in the front and back of his neck. “It was pretty close,” his brother, Austen, said. “He’s pretty lucky he didn’t end up paralyzed. I guess it was resting against his spinal cord.” Austen said the family has seen more than its share of serious injuries, including Colby having to recover from a shredded spleen while in high school at Timpview that could’ve killed him. Colby was married to his wife Lydia just a week prior. He’s now facing a 6-month recovery process.–“BYU football linebacker Colby Jorgensen’s emergency surgery goes well after neck fracture”, HeraldExtra.com 8/12/15, Jared Lloyd. “BYU’s Jorgensen suffers serious neck injury, undergoes successful surgery”, DeseretNews.com 8/12/15, Jeff Call.
New Orleans-based doctors Paul Harch and Keith Van Meter are performing treatment on traumatic brain injury through hyperbaric oxygen. A patient gets into a chamber that is pressurized to a level greater than the earth’s atmosphere, and then breathes 100 percent oxygen. In Harch and Van Meter’s treatments, the patient undergoes a minimum of 40 one-hour treatments in the chamber. Through the combination of increased pressure and oxygen, the oxygen is dissolved into the liquid portion of the blood and becomes immediately available for use. The oxygenated liquid blood is transported and diffused to all areas of the body. “That rise in oxygen and pressure, and then removal of it, signals in some fashion … the 8,101 genes in our DNA to begin either elaborating proteins or shutting down bad genes,” Harch said. “The genes coded for cell death are shut off.” The science itself has been difficult even for neurologists to understand, but the results from Harch and Van Meter’s prior research have been stunning. Most of Harch and Van Meter’s research on treatment of traumatic brain injury through hyperbaric oxygen has centered on military veterans returning from combat. Roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a large number of servicemen dealing with precisely the type of injuries Harch and Van Meter are trying to heal. According to a pilot trial conducted by Harch and Van Meter in 2011, “veterans achieved improvements in memory, concentration, executive function and quality of life and a reduction in headaches, concussion symptoms, depression and anxiety” with “an increase in IQ of 15 points.” In each case, Harch and Van Meter found that single photon emission computer tomography (SPECT) images, which provide a look at the inner workings of the brain, showed improved blood flow to the damaged areas. Their findings are potentially revolutionary in the neurology field, which has traditionally looked at brain injuries as untreatable. “There is some science here that’s really pretty special,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “Frankly, I think there’s a bunch of ways we could use it. Certainly concussions are one.”–LSU, Miles seeking solutions to the concussion problem”, TigerRag.com 8/12/13, Luke Johnson.
JOSH WILLIFORD, 24, guard with LSU 2010-13, in a game against Florida on 10/6/12 was hit with a blindside block while running downfield to make a tackle on an interception and was knocked out. After the game, Williford ate Chick-fil-A for dinner. But he didn’t remember, and then asked his mother what they were having for dinner. And he asked again. And again. He spent several weeks in what amounted to sensory deprivation in his lightless room. He unplugged his TV and only used his phone to contact family and LSU’s medical staff. Any other sort of stimulation — light, sound or even intense thought — and the headaches came back with fury. Williford tried returning for the Alabama game after passing a battery of tests to prove he was ready. But it didn’t take long before a minor collision with former LSU linebacker Kevin Minter brought his symptoms back. “All of a sudden, I go out there, I didn’t even really get hit hard and my head was about to explode,” Williford said. “It wasn’t as bad as it was (when I was first injured) but it got pretty bad. I had to go back and start from the beginning.” In August 2013 Williford sustained another concussion in practice. He reportedly lost consciousness again, giving him his second severe concussion in 10 months. He missed all of the 2013 season and his career was in jeopardy.–“LSU, Miles seeking solutions to the concussion problem”, TigerRag.com 8/12/13, Luke Johnson.
CHRIS TOLLIVER, 26, wide receiver with LSU, 2009-10, was hit while leaping high for a pass in practice, landed on his head, and was knocked out, suffering a grade III concussion, the most severe. “I don’t remember nothing from when I had it,” Tolliver said. “The trainers told me I couldn’t stay awake. I kept closing my eyes.” He rolled through his symptoms: “Memory loss. I had a little blood coming from my nose, or whatever. I was throwing up, couldn’t hardly eat. I was having headaches consistently. … Light was hurting my eyes. Sound, music, TV. I was in the hospital watching the TV on mute. Any small thing.” Eventually Tolliver was cleared, but he probably came back too soon. He suffered two more minor concussions in practice, giving him three in a year-long span. LSU coaches and medical staff intervened. Worried about potential long-term damage, they made the call: Tolliver would never play football at LSU again.–“LSU, Miles seeking solutions to the concussion problem“, TigerRag.com 8/12/13, Luke Johnson.