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.
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.
Date: May 18, 2015–Source: UT Southwestern Medical Center
Summary: In the first study of its kind, former National Football League (NFL) players who lost consciousness due to concussion during their playing days showed key differences in brain structure later in life.
The hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory, was found to be smaller in 28 former NFL players as compared with a control group of men of similar age and education. “While we found that aging individuals with a history of concussion and loss of consciousness showed smaller hippocampal volumes and lower memory test scores, the good news is that we did not detect a similar relationship among subjects with a history of concussion that did not involve loss of consciousness, which represents the vast majority of concussions,” said Dr. Munro Cullum, who holds the Pam Blumenthal Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Psychology. Some of the retired NFL players also met criteria for Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition that typically affects memory and may lead to dementia. The findings were more pronounced among those who experienced more severe concussions. The 28 former players ranged from 36 to 79 years old, with a mean age of 58. Twenty-one healthy men of similar age, educational level, and intelligence with no history of concussion or professional football experience served as control subjects. The results do not explain why the hippocampus was smaller in the athletes who suffered more serious concussions. Some shrinkage is a part of the normal aging process but the reduction is accentuated in MCI and was even more notable in those MCI subjects with a history of concussion accompanied by loss of consciousness. Thus, there appears to be a cumulative effect of concussion history and MCI on hippocampal size and function.–“Concussion in former NFL players related to brain changes later in life”, ScienceDaily.com 5/18/15.
The Illinois High School Association (IHSA), the nation’s first prep sports governing body to face a class-action concussions lawsuit, has asked an Illinois judge to dismiss the suit, arguing that if it prevails, it could kill football programs statewide. In a 16-page motion filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the IHSA says it and its 800 member schools have been proactive about improving head-injury management for the 50,000 football players they oversee each year. The filing echoes IHSA director Marty Hickman’s previous comments to reporters that court-imposed mandates could make football prohibitively expensive for poorer schools, especially Chicago’s public high schools, and lead to “haves and have-nots” in the sport. Plaintiff attorney Joseph Siprut has said improving safety should help football survive, not lead to its demise. He said football is already in jeopardy because parents fearful of concussions are refusing to let their kids play, potentially drying up the talent pool. The lawsuit doesn’t seek monetary damages. In addition to court oversight, it seeks requirements that medical personnel be present at all games and practices, among other mandates. It also calls for the IHSA to pay for medical testing of former high school football players extending back to 2002. The lead plaintiff in the initial suit was Daniel Bukal, an ex-quarterback at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles. He was replaced in the amended suit by Alex Pierscionek, a former South Elgin High School lineman. Pierscionek alleges he still suffers memory loss from concussions he received playing at the suburban Chicago school from 2010 to 2014. The suit is filed as a class-action, but the court has not yet approved that status.–“Illinois group says concussions lawsuit ‘threatens’ football”, ESPN.com from AP, 4/13/15.
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, www.StopCTE.org.
–“A Son of Football Calls His Mother”, NY Times 4/26/15, Dan Barry. [I learned of this story from Dave Pear’s Blog.]
GARY PLUMMER, 55, linebacker with San Diego and San Francisco, 1986-97, was diagnosed with early onset dementia in November 2014. “Your helmet is a weapon, and it always has been,” he said. “I had a headache for 11 straight years.” Plummer was in denial about the trauma to his head and didn’t think he’d ever had a concussion, since he’d never been knocked out cold. He once stormed out of a panel discussion on concussions organized by agent Leigh Steinberg after yelling, “You guys are a joke.” He said he felt reassured by “being lied to by the NFL.” He worked for years as a 49ers radio analyst, but when he started working for the Pac-12 Network, he struggled with memory. “I couldn’t think fast.” While playing, Plummer, who also played 3 years in the USFL, believed that players who retired because of injury were weak. He’s also suffered from depression, especially after the suicide of his good friend and former teammate Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May 2012 by shooting himself and was found to have CTE.—“Young 49er’s retirement kick-starts discussion about the dangers of football”, SF Chronicle 3/18/15, Ann Killion. “League of Denial”, Steve Fainaru & Mark Fainaru-Wada.
MOSI TATUPU, 54, running back and special teamer with New England and the LA Rams, 1978-91, died of a heart attack in 2010 and was found to have CTE in October 2014, a day after his family learned he’d been elected to the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Tatupu left a family dinner at a restaurant after his first home game with New England and was found vomiting profusely in the parking lot by his wife, Linnea Garcia-Tatupu. Her father, a former boxer while in the marines, knew that Tatupu had suffered a concussion. The fan favorite from American Samoa underwent distinct behavior changes in his early 30s, growing aloof and forgetful, frequently misplacing things, and drinking heavily. His metamorphosis caused his 20-year marriage to unravel. In CTE the abnormal buildup of tau protein prevents the brain’s nerve cells from making normal connections with each other, eventually killing them. The buildup causes erratic behavior, memory loss, depression, and ultimately dementia. Tatupu’s son, Lofa, 32, played 6 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and wants his 2 sons, one nearly 4 years old, and the other 6 months, to eventually follow in the family footsteps, which terrifies Linnea. “I’m not going to lie: I loved football up until I became involved with somebody who played the game. I am not going to recommend any sport where you can’t protect the very thing that is meant to keep you alive. If your brain doesn’t work, there is precious little else that will.”—“Years of battering took toll on 1980s Patriots star Mosi Tatupu”, BostonGlobe.com 1/27/15, Kay Lazar.
DANIEL BUKAL, 29, quarterback with Notre Dame College Prep (IL), 1999-2003, has filed a lawsuit as a lead plaintiff for former high school players as a whole against the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), saying it didn’t do enough to protect him from concussions when he played and still doesn’t do enough to protect current players. He received multiple concussions at the suburban Chicago school and, a decade on, still suffers frequent migraines and has experienced notable memory loss, according to the suit (he did not play beyond high school). The IHSA did not have concussion protocols in place at the time, the suit alleges.—“High school head injury lawsuit filed in Illinois”, CentralMaine.com 12/29/14, AP.
MYCHAL SHAW, 18, defensive end/fullback with Lee’s Summit North HS (MO), suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit in a 2013 game and continued to play in the game—he doesn’t remember the second half. He was later temporarily unable to walk or speak and his season ended. Extreme light and sound sensitivity prevented him from attending his team’s games. Memory loss forced him to drop 2 classes and he has memory problems more than a year later. A neurologist initially diagnosed him with a migraine, his father, Michael, said. Shaw was cleared to play 5 days after the concussion, but missed 5 months. A second doctor said most of his post-concussion complications were likely caused by the hits he suffered after the first one. Shaw said, “A lot of guys want to hide it because they want to protect their pride. I’m a victim of that. I did that.” He returned to play his senior season and his mother, Ryana, led the family in a prayer ritual before each game.—“After a concussion, it’s unclear when—or if—high school athletes should return to action”, LebanonDemocrat.com 10/24/14, Sam McDowell, The Kansas City Star.
SHERMAN LOGAN, 30 (app), defensive end with Richmond (VA), 2004-08, took a knee to the head in practice on Friday 8/13/04 that caused a concussion and a bruise to his spinal cord that paralyzed him for 30 minutes. His NFL aspirations ended on this play, as he was viewed as too much of a risk. Unable to focus on schoolwork, he withdrew from school his first semester and did not play the 2004 season. Logan went on to win a Division I-AA championship with Richmond and earn first-team All-Atlantic 10 honors, but refused to report other minor concussions throughout his college career. He now wakes up with joint pain, has muffled hearing, a virtually nonexistent sense of smell, and has suffered memory loss. Logan said current players should stop and think about the rest of their life and the quality of life they want to live. He said football provided him with endless opportunities, and he was forever thankful, but at the end of the day, “it’s just a sport.”—“Using your head: Concussions make an impact for Richmond football”, the Collegian 4/18/14, Lauren Shute. “Richmond Spider refuses to break despite injury troubles”, PilotOnline.com 10/9/08, Paul White, The Virginian-Pilot.