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.
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.
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.
JEB PUTZIER, 36, tight end with Denver, Houston and Seattle, 2002-08, suffered brain damage from many concussions and the residual effects from numerous cortisone injections, became depressed and tried to commit suicide. After football his personality changed significantly for the worse, he became fatigued so easily that he couldn’t hold his job with a medical equipment company, and was divorced. Chronic fatigue may have been partially caused by the numerous cortisone and Toradol injections Putzier took throughout his career. Dr. Greg Hipskind, the chief medical advisor of CereScan, said, “If those cortisol levels in your bloodstream are high, it turns off your brain signals to make more,” Hipskind said. “When that signal remains off for a long time it’s hard for it to restart.” Putzier now undergoes daily infrared laser treatments to the skull. He also goes through eyeball movement therapy which helps put the brain cells back in sync. His condition has markedly improved.–“NFL Aftermath: Life a medical struggle for Jeb Putzier”, 9news.com 7/6/15, Mike Klis.
Letter: Don’t let young kids play tackle football
By Bill Perkins
It doesn’t surprise me that children 8 to 14 years old want to play tackle football. What surprises me is that any parents allow it.
I love football. I coached high school and college football for 37 years. I’ve seen my share of concussions and traumatic brain injuries (some requiring players to drop out of school to recover); ACL tears and subsequent surgery and nine months or more of painful rehabilitation. I’ve witnessed neck and spinal cord injuries; one resulting in the player becoming a quadriplegic. Other serious injuries included broken femurs, dislocated elbows (both requiring surgery), etc.
These injuries were all tragic. Short term — they were painful and required long rehabilitation. Long term — the effects won’t be known for decades (early dementia, premature knee and hip replacement surgery, etc.).
In all the above cases these were highly trained, well coached, well equipped college or high school players. The pain and suffering as a result of traumatic injury to a college or high school athlete is devastating. I can’t imagine the effect of these types of injuries happening to a child aged 11 to 14.
There are many reasons to not allow young children to play tackle football and few, if any, reasons to allow them to play. Most of the skills kids will need to be compete in high school football can be developed by playing flag football or even just playing anything (soccer, track, basketball, etc.). Blocking and tackling can and should wait until high school when children’s bodies are more mature and resilient and the coaches are well trained, skilled and experienced.
Here is a list of reasons why to not allow kids to play youth tackle football (pre-high school, Pop Warner/Parks and Recreation):
1. Lack of trained and experienced coaches: The highest level of coaching is NFL, next is collegiate, followed by high school and finally youth football. Consider the words of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, “Our worst coaches are coaching the most critical position, and that is the 9, 10, 11-year-olds … “
2. Lack of certified training staff at practices: Many, if not most, concussions occur in practice and many are not diagnosed even at the highest levels of coaching. Certified trainers are an integral part of injury treatment and diagnosis as well as prevention.
3. Risk of head and neck trauma: Current research indicates that much of the permanent damage to the brain is the result of repetitive concussion syndrome. The brains of younger children are more vulnerable than when those same children are older and more physically developed. Consider the words of physician Ann McKee, chief neuropathologist at Boston University who explains, “Because a young athlete’s brain is still developing, the effects of a concussion, or even many smaller hits over a season, can be far more detrimental, compared to the head injury of an older player.”
4. Risk of injuries other than concussion: ACL tears requiring surgery and months of rehabilitation. Spinal cord injury and possible loss of mobility as a result.
List of reasons to allow kids to play tackle football prior to high school:
1. I’ll have to think about it and get back to you …
Pre-high school tackle football should be outlawed. I was shocked to learn recently that Bend-La Pine Schools support and sponsor middle school tackle football. Why? Especially when there is no correlation between youth football success and high school football success.
Football is a wonderful sport, but it should be illegal to subject young children to the brutality of tackle football before they are physically ready. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
I encourage all of you and especially the school board and the Bend Park and Recreation leadership to view the documentary, “The United States of Football.”
“Dancing is a contact sport … football is a collision sport.” — Vince Lombardi.
Let ’em play anything and everything except tackle football until they get to high school … please!
— Bill Perkins lives in Bend.
MIKE JENKINS, 45, tight end with Warren Central HS (IN), 1981-83, suffered multiple concussions, committed suicide on 5/5/11 and was found to have CTE. Originally a quarterback who began playing football when he was 7, his nickname was “Crash”. He also played baseball, basketball, swam, and raced motor bikes, always going all out. He was an ultra-dedicated, loving husband and father to 2 sons, a coach and mentor. Extremely generous, Jenkins would help anyone in need, and, using CPR, once saved the life of a man who had a heart attack at a NASCAR race. He also helped the family of a neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer. Jenkins began to have angry outbursts, became combative at work, struggled with alcoholism, and hated himself for being unable to stop drinking. His last concussion was in February 2011, caused by slipping on ice. He was sick with post-concussion symptoms, sometimes had a blank look in his eyes, began to miss his sons’ games, and there was a weekend when he did not get out of bed. He once spaced out driving his semi and a coworker had to grab the steering wheel to prevent the truck from crossing the center line. After having dinner together on Easter Sunday 2011, Jenkins couldn’t remember how to get back to his brother’s house, which was located in the neighborhood where they’d grown up. It was the last day his brother, Rick, saw Mike alive.–“Mike Jenkins Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute. Memorials from the Jenkins family: mother Marcia, wife Kim, brother Rick, and sons Nick and Kyle.
TROY AIKMAN, 48, quarterback with Dallas, 1989-2000, says he suffered 2 severe concussions and about 6 to 8 overall, before retiring because of chronic back problems. The 3-time Super Bowl champion was put in the hospital from a concussion in the 1994 NFC Championship Game and did not remember the game at all. He had back surgery before the 2000 season. Aikman’s brain was tested in the summer of 2013 at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas, and he tested well. “It certainly gave me some peace of mind.” “I don’t have a 10-year-old son,” Aikman says. “If I did, I would not tell him he could not play football. But I don’t think I would encourage him to play football.” On 49er Chris Borland’s retirement at 24: “A lot of guys talk about it, but when it comes to making the decision, most players are pushed out. So for a guy who came on and had a terrific rookie season and a promising career ahead of him, to walk away, I guess it’s admirable that he is looking at his long-term health.”–“Troy Aikman on Concussions, Borland and Broadcasting”, MMQB.SI.com 3/26/15, Peter King.
VONTAZE BURFICT, 24, linebacker with Cincinnati, 2012-present, sustained concussions in consecutive games on 9/7 and 9/14/14, also suffering a stinger in the 9/14 game when he took a teammate’s knee to his helmet. Coach Marvin Lewis said Burfict suffered a cervical strain, an injury where the muscles in the neck are stretched beyond the point they are designed for, tearing and straining the muscle fibers. Three weeks later he left a game with a “head injury,” but returned to the game. Burfict remains on Injured Reserve status with Cincinnati.–“Vontaze Burfict latest injury is a ‘cervical strain'”, NBCsports.com 10/19/14, Darin Gantt. KFFL.com 9/18/14.