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.
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.
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.
DEVAUN SWAFFORD, 21, junior walk-on defensive back with Tennessee, made a tackle in the Gator Bowl on 1/2/15 and thought he was paralyzed. “I went to tackle a guy on an out route, and I hit him, and my neck just snapped down, and my body locked up for probably five or 10 seconds,” Swafford said. “It kind of scared me. I thought I was paralyzed for a split second, but then I hopped up and went on with it. After the game I remember my neck being stiff, but I was more concerned about my head because I had a concussion.” Over time his neck healed, but in 2015 spring practice, “I took on a block like normal, like I always do, and I remember feeling this sharp pain in my neck for a split second. I kept playing, and I finished practice and went on with it. But then I got home and started playing my X-Box, and my arm started falling asleep, and I was like, ‘Dang, what’s that?’ But I still didn’t think too much of it. But then I went to look at my phone, and every time I looked down, I started feeling a tingling sensation that you get when your arm falls asleep. It was all the way down my left arm.” Swafford continued to practice and didn’t say anything to Tennessee’s training staff. The third warning sign came the following week, though. And that one couldn’t be ignored. “I started feeling that same thing down in my spine, down to the middle of the back.” Two MRIs confirmed a spinal cord contusion, a bruise on the spinal cord that could result in permanent paralysis if Swafford was hit with a certain force the wrong way. “Over the course of the next month I started doing some thinking — some real-life thinking, thinking about my future family and all types of stuff like that, and I started thinking about not playing anymore. I got insight from my parents, the rest of my family, my friends, my girlfriend, and they all told me they’d support my decision, so I decided not to play. I just couldn’t take the risk of having an injury like being paralyzed or something. That’s serious stuff…They never mentioned dying or anything like that, but they did mention permanent paralysis, and that gets your attention.”–“Swafford ‘always a Vol For Life'”, Tennessee.247sports.com 7/23/15, Wes Rucker.
MORRIS TRENT PHIPPS, 61, nose guard with Baylor, 1965-70, died on 10/9/09 after suffering from serious depression, Early Onset Alzheimer’s disease, and at death was found to have CTE, the effects of which began to show in 1997. The coaches thought he was too small but his tenacity, quickness, and strength always earned him his starting position. The first in his family ever to attend and graduate from college, Phipps was married with 2 sons and worked as a teacher, coach and principal. Trent’s family misses him greatly and wants people to know the devastation of this disease and asks you to support, in whatever fashion, the research that may some day prevent others from suffering the effects of CTE.–“Morris Trent Phipps Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute. Memorial by his wife Donna and sons Brett and Garrett.
GEORGE MONTGOMERY, 43, running back with Arizona State, 1989-93, committed suicide by shooting himself at the end of July 2014 and was found to have CTE. He had also been in the Philadelphia Eagles organization and played a couple years in Europe. His mother, Denese, contends that Montgomery did not commit suicide: “My child wouldn’t kill himself.” On 7/31/14 hikers found his body floating face down in Beaver Creek in Yavapai County (AZ), whose medical examiner determined from an autopsy that Montgomery shot himself 3 times and sustained 4 wounds, 2 shots entering the heart. Investigators found a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in the water, according to the police report. It had one hollow-point round in the chamber, but the five-round magazine was empty. Authorities tracked the gun to San Diego, where it had been reported stolen in 2011. A representative from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office told sheriff’s deputies that Montgomery had been investigated before and was the “main target” in a criminal case that had sprung from a $3 million Ponzi scheme.–“Mother seeks answers in son’s mysterious death”, The Arizona Republic 5/26/15, Matthew Casey. From USAtoday.com.
CHRIS HUHN, 20, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman with Marshall, has retired because of 4 or 5 documented concussions he’s sustained. “Due to concerns about my recent concussions I have decided not to play football anymore. My mental health and my future are too important to risk in my opinion. I will still go to school here at Marshall University and help out with the team any way I can. Thank you to Marshall University and everyone who has helped me get this far. It’s been a great ride!!”–“Chris Huhn decides his playing days are over”, CharlestonDailyMail.com 3/27/15, Derek Redd. (From a post by Chris Huhn on his Twitter feed on 3/27/15.)