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.
AUSTIN TRENUM, 17, fullback and linebacker with Brentsville HS (VA), committed suicide by hanging on 9/27/10. His parents, Gil and Michelle, who grew up in the football-steeped cultures of Ohio and Texas, said Austin had about 4 concussions. After being taken to the hospital for a concussion sustained in a game, Michelle asked him if he wanted a Tylenol because he’d had a headache the previous time he’d sustained a concussion. “Mom, I’m fine. I don’t have a headache. Except for my normal football headache. I get them after every game.” Some experts believe 8 of 10 concussions go undiagnosed. A concussion is not a bruise, but a disruption of the intricate system of electrochemical signals that constitute normal brain function, and can drain the brain of energy. Symptoms include headaches, sensitivity to light, confusion, lack of focus, irritability, and loss of interest in favorite activities. With rest and a gradual return to regular activity, most athletes who suffer a single concussion experience no permanent ill effects. Some, however, suffer post-concussion syndrome, in which symptoms persist for months or years, in rare cases permanently. Having one concussion may increase the risk of another. Multiple concussions are associated with an increased risk of post-concussion syndrome as well as depression and memory loss. Dr. Gerard Gioia says the conventional medical wisdom of waking concussion patients every few hours to check for brain bleeding is actually not a good idea, because sleep is essential to allow cells to rebalance themselves. He says the frontal lobes, which house our executive control centers and constitute about one-third of total brain mass, and are located just behind the forehead, absorb much of the contact in football. In teenagers, the frontal lobes are still developing and require a great amount of energy to function properly. Any disruption can affect the ability to reason, to choose right from wrong, to override impulses, to connect current actions to future consequences. An excellent student and extremely stable individual, Austin Trenum did not show any signs of depression and did not leave a suicide note. A post-mortem examination showed no signs of CTE. He had multifocal axonal injury, a condition where axons, which connect neurons and conduct electricity in the brain, are badly damaged. He had 2 younger brothers who have since stopped playing football: Cody finished his high school season and quit football; Walker suffered a concussion and was persuaded by his mother to stop playing.–“Did Football Kill Austin Trenum?”, Washingtonian.com 7/23/12, Patrick Hruby.
TED JOHNSON, 42, linebacker with New England, 1995-2004, seldom left the house for 2 years after retiring. The 3-time Super Bowl winner became addicted to amphetamines, suffered from depression, sleep disorder, and throbbing headaches related to post-concussion syndrome and second impact syndrome, a condition where a player receives a second concussion before the symptoms from the first have cleared (which can be fatal). Given to angry outbursts, he and his wife were both arrested in an alleged domestic dispute on 7/16/06 and divorced in 12/06. Johnson claims that Coach Belichick pressured him into participating in full contact drills just 3 days after sustaining a concussion, against the advice of the team’s head trainer. He sustained a second concussion during the drills. He showed signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2007.—“NFL: Concussions are game’s dark side”, NY Times, 2/2/07, Alan Schwarz. “Dead athletes brains show damage from concussions”, CNN 1/28/09, Stephanie Smith. Also AP/ESPN Boston 5/18/12 and the Boston Globe 2/07.
LEROY HOARD, 46, running back with Cleveland, Baltimore, Carolina and Minnesota, 1990-99, has post-concussion syndrome. He’s experienced memory loss, anger issues, depression, throbbing headaches, shakes, numbness in his legs and toes and arm. He’s had multiple surgeries, debilitating neck and back pain. He couldn’t hold a job and lost his health insurance. Every day he writes down the names of Junior Seau, Andre Waters and Dave Duerson, fellow NFLers who committed suicide by shooting themselves and were found to have CTE. “I don’t own a gun—that may be the only reason I’m here right now.”—ESPN Outside the Lines, 1/30/13, Kelly Naqi.
JUNIOR SEAU, 43, linebacker with San Diego, Miami and New England, 1990-2009, committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest on 5/2/12. Though never diagnosed with a concussion, he had headaches and bouts of dizziness in his 20s, and divorced in 2002. After retirement the 1994 AFC Player of the Year and 8-time First Team All-Pro had insomnia, abused Ambien, drank heavily, made bad financial decisions and tried to gamble his way out of them in Las Vegas. “I’m addicted to everything.” On 10/18/10 he was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence after an incident with a girlfriend, and, after posting bail, drove his car over a beachside cliff but somehow survived the crash. He was confirmed to have CTE.—“The Violent Life and Sudden Death of Junior Seau”, GQ 9/13, Nathaniel Penn. “Conclusions? Too Early”, SI 1/21/13, David Epstein.
The NCAA has reached a deal filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago to toughen return-to-play rules for players who receive head blows and create a $70 million fund to pay for testing current and former players (there’s no cutoff date) to determine whether they suffered brain trauma while playing football and other contact sports. The lead plaintiff is Adrian Arrington, a former safety at Eastern Illinois, who said he endured 5 concussions while playing, some so severe that he couldn’t recognize his parents afterward. Unlike a proposed settlement in a similar lawsuit against the NFL, this deal does not set aside any money to pay players who suffered brain trauma. Instead, athletes can sue individually. The NCAA admits no wrongdoing in the settlement and has denied understanding the dangers of concussions. Attorney Jay Edelson called it a “terrible deal” and “window dressing,” saying the NCAA will be able to settle one-off suits for several thousand dollars each and that a single class-action suit could’ve been worth $2 billion to players.—“Accord reached in head-injury suit”, SF Chronicle 7/30/14, from AP with contribution from Chronicle staff writer Tom Fitzgerald.
The NCAA is recommending a regular-season limit of 2 contact practices per week. This limit is already in place in the Ivy League and Pac-12. The NCAA also recommends 4 contact practices per week during the preseason and no more than 8 of the 15 sessions during spring football. Also suggested is that medical decisions regarding players and their return to the field should be made independently of a coach, and should be made by a physician, rather than an athletic trainer.—“NCAA suggests limits for contact practices”, SF Chronicle 7/18/14, from AP.
Adrian Arrington, the former Eastern Illinois football player who started the class-action concussions lawsuit against the NCAA has fired his lawyer, Joseph Siprut, over what he said are weak provisions of a proposed settlement, a claim which Siprut denies. “The preliminary settlement is completely unacceptable and I never agreed to it,” Arrington told CNN. “In fact, the first time I learned about it was in the media. I feel that I have been misinformed and the preliminary settlement doesn’t address the reasons I filed the lawsuit in the first place. I would like the judge to reject the preliminary settlement. I plan to secure new legal representation to continue this fight to protect future players in NCAA sports.” Arrington had several concussions when he played football for Eastern Illinois, and told CNN last year that when he complained of memory loss, seizures and headaches, trainers there simply gave him medicine and told him to keep playing. Arrington quit the team after his father, George Arrington, watched him stumble on the field after a hard hit and coaches were going to put him back in the game. “I said, ‘Adrian’s not going back into the game.’ ” “I wake up afraid for my life and I want the lawyers and judges to understand that,” Adrian said. “I’m mentally unable to provide for my kids — what was the point of getting that scholarship and degree?” Some cases fall out outside the statute of limitations and athletes involved in those cases will have no legal recourse if the settlement is accepted by a federal judge. Stanley Doughty is one of those athletes. He was injured twice–both times going temporarily numb from head and neck injuries–while playing for the University of South Carolina in 2004 and 2005. He said South Carolina cleared him to play, and it wasn’t until he was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs that he learned from a team doctor that his injuries were actually life threatening, and prevented him from ever playing football again. The proposed settlement is now before United States District Judge John Z. Lee for consideration.–“Former NCAA football player fires lawyer in class-action concussion lawsuit”, CNN.com 6/10/15.