Chris Norton

CHRIS NORTON, 23, a former college football player who broke his neck during a game in 2010, said he was given a 3 percent chance of ever regaining movement below his neck.  On 5/23/15 he got engaged and the next day he walked across the stage at his graduation from Luther College in Decorah, IA, accomplishing a goal he had set over a year ago.  Assisted by his fiancee, Emily Summers, Norton rose from his wheelchair and took steps in front a cheering crowd to receive his diploma in business management, KCCI reported.  “It was like my gameday,” he told The Des Moines Register.  “I was in the zone, focusing on what I needed to do and not worrying about anyone or anything else.”  According to NBC, Norton has gradually regained movement while in therapy. He’s also launched a foundation called SCI CAN to help finance high-priced equipment for people recovering from spinal injuries.  In part to provide inspiration for spinal cord injury patients, he publicly declared he would walk at his ceremony.  Norton completed school a semester early to train for the big moment.  “And there’s still so many things I can accomplish.”–“Paralyzed Ex-Football Player Chris Norton Walked Again, Graduated And Got Engaged. How Was Your Weekend?”, 5/26/15, Ron Dicker.

Jack Miller

JACK MILLER, senior center with Michigan, 2012-14, retired from college football in March 2015 because of the threat of long-term mental health issues caused by concussions. “I know I’ve had a few and it’s nice walking away before things could’ve gotten worse,” Miller told ESPN.  “And yes, multiple schools have reached out.  But I’m ready to walk away from it.  My health and happiness is more important than a game.”  Miller said he’d suffered one concussion in high school and “probably” another two or three at Michigan, though he added–in echoes of Clint Trickett’s recent retirement–he’d only reported one to the Wolverines’ trainers.  He started all 12 Michigan games in 2014, earning the Hugh R. Rader Memorial Award as the team’s best offensive lineman.  But given Miller’s business plans outside of football and his first-hand experience of the concussion issue–not only his own, but the firestorm surrounding Michigan’s handling of quarterback Shane Morris’s head injury vs. Minnesota in September 2014–it’s a decision college football can expect more players to make.– 3/25/15, Jerry Hinnen.

Tom VanDenburgh

TOM VANDENBURGH, 57 (app), defensive end with Notre Dame’s 1977 National Championship team, had his career ended by a spinal injury before his junior year.  He was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame in May 2015.–“Nine with area ties entering Indiana Football Hall of Fame”, 5/2/15, John Mutka.


Patton Robinette

PATTON ROBINETTE, junior quarterback with Vanderbilt, 2013-14, announced on 3/27/15 that he’s ending his playing career due to a history of injuries, including a concussion that caused him to miss 6 games of the 2014 season.  Robinette started playing organized football in the sixth grade.  As a high school quarterback, he guided powerful Maryville High School (TN) to consecutive state titles and a 29-1 overall record.  He was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011. “This has been a very difficult decision to make.  This team means the world to me and I love playing football more than anything.  It’s been tough coming to a decision that is right for my family and I, and protects my health and future.”  The 2013 SEC Academic Honor Roll student plans to enter medical school at Vanderbilt and specialize in orthopedics.–“Patton Robinette’s playing career comes to an end”, 3/27/15.

Spencer Rymiszewski

SPENCER RYMISZEWSKI, junior cornerback with Yale, suffered a spinal cord concussion on 10/25/14 diving to help on a tackle in a game against Penn, and took a hit to the head that left him motionless on the ground.  He was put on a stretcher and taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital.  He missed the rest of the season.  Rymiszewski released a statement on 10/28/14 saying, in part: “I anticipate making a full recovery and getting back on the football field with my brothers. I am grateful to the Yale medical staff and the entire Yale football community — to include the administrative staff, my coaches, my teammates, and all of the parents — for their care, kindness, love, and support over the last days.”  He missed the 2015 spring game.–“Rymiszewski ’17 to miss season”, 10/28/14, Greg Cameron.

Derrick Tindal

DERRICK TINDAL, sophomore cornerback with Wisconsin, crumpled to the ground face-first and did not move after trying to tackle Taiwan Deal in spring practice on 4/12/15.  He led with his head and his helmet appeared to hit Deal’s leg.  Trainers rushed onto the field, steadied his head, turned him onto his back, placed him on a backboard and then a stretcher.  An ambulance came on the field and took Tindal to the University of Wisconsin Hospital.  “You don’t ever want to see that,” said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.  Tindal lost his mother, Regina Singletary, to cancer during last season.  Tindal had movement in his extremities and said that he was OK the next day.–“Badgers Derrick Tindal hospitalized with head/neck injury”, 4/12/15, Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Roderick Johnson

RODERICK JOHNSON, redshirt sophomore offensive lineman with Florida, suffered a stinger in a scrimmage on 4/3/15 and an MRI revealed that he has congenital cervical stenosis, causing him to retire from football on the recommendation of outside specialists and team physicians. He experienced numbness in his hands and fingers during the scrimmage, lost feeling in his extremities, but was eventually able to walk off the field. Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal that prohibits the passage of fluid.—“Gators’ Johnson to end football career”, 4/14/15, Robbie Andreu, Gainesville Sun.

Tyson Gentry

TYSON GENTRY, 28, walk-on receiver with Ohio State, was paralyzed in April 2006 after catching a pass and taking a hit from safety Kurt Coleman in a team scrimmage. He landed awkwardly as he hit the ground and broke his C4 vertebra, and has not walked since. He can’t use his fingers, but has biceps control and can operate a manual wheelchair. Gentry has been at the same level of mobility since 2008 and hasn’t been part of organized therapy in several years. He graduated from Ohio State in 2009, moved to Florida in 2011 because he felt the cold negatively affected his body, and married in 2013. He’s working on a masters in rehabilitation counseling and hopes to work helping people with disabilities, in particular military veterans, possibly in concert with his wife, Megan. Tyson and Megan have started a foundation to help those with spinal cord injuries at —“Checking in with Tyson Gentry, the paralyzed former Ohio State Buckeye with a brand new bride”, 11/1/13, Doug Lesmerises, Northeast Ohio Media Group.

Patrick Risha

PATRICK RISHA, 32, running back with Dartmouth, 2006 grad, committed suicide by hanging on 9/17/14 and was found to have CTE.  A product of the Monongahela Valley and son of a football coach, Pat, who’d played with the Washington Redskins, Patrick started playing Mon Valley Midget football when he was 10.  Known as “The Horse,” he was an All-District selection and Daily News MVP in high school.  His mother, Karen Kinzle Zegel, said his entire body was “like a piece of meat” as a result of all the practices and games, and he once came off the field with no memory of 2 touchdowns he’d scored.  He had occasional fits of rage over nothing and once swallowed a bottle of Tylenol after being grounded for drinking.  His teammate at Dartmouth, Rich Walton, said of Risha, “A pounding running back.  He just loved the contact.”  He had an up-and-down college career, which included a back injury that introduced him to painkillers.  He went from gregarious to reclusive, had trouble with schoolwork, and took Adderall for attention deficit disorder, but no dosage could lock in his focus.  Returning to Mon Valley, Risha was unable to carry himself, gambled online, overspent, had fits of anger, couldn’t handle simple business, accumulated 6 months of unopened mail, and, when he heard his sister hadn’t received her prepaid wedding video, broke into the videographer’s home with a sledgehammer to get it.  His father died and his girlfriend gave birth to their son in October 2010.  Risha was on the phone with his mother just before committing suicide. She has begun a website,

–“A Son of Football Calls His Mother”, NY Times 4/26/15, Dan Barry.  [I learned of this story from Dave Pear’s Blog.]

Heat Stress Dangers

Between the years 2000 and 2007, twenty deaths that occurred during high school and collegiate football practice were attributed to heat stress.  From 1980 to 2009, there were 58 documented hyperthermia deaths of American-style football players in the United States.  Hyperthermia is elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation that occurs when a body produces or absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Extreme temperature elevation then becomes a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment to prevent disability or death.  When played in hot weather, football lends itself to these dangers because the protective equipment worn creates microclimates above the skin surface but beneath the uniform, reducing heat dissipation and generating the risk of heat exhaustion and exercise-induced hyperthermia.  It’s recommended that in hot weather practices players suit up in stages and only wear equipment appropriate to the practice activity.  For example, helmets can be removed for general fitness training when they are not needed for protection.  Also recommended are frequent cooling breaks in the shade with ice water and misting fans, and having players sit in cold tubs after practice may also reduce risk and accelerate recovery.–“The Dangers of Heat Stress for Athletes”, 3/23/15, Mike Willey.