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.
DANIEL BRETT, 16, junior varsity linebacker with Cypress Bay HS (FL), committed suicide on 5/14/11 after being diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome and suffering from ‘migraine-type headaches’ and depression. He began playing football at 11 and never complained and never told anyone when he was hurt until August 24, 2009. “Coach, I can’t see,” Daniel finally confessed and later acknowledged he had been hit head-on and taken quite a few blows that left him seeing stars. Brett regularly saw a neurologist, was on anti-seizure/migraine medication, visited a chiropractor, and even tried acupuncture. Nothing helped his chronic headaches, growing depression, sluggishness, and apathy. His value judgments and behaviors deteriorated as he tried in vain to alleviate his pain through self-medication. Psychiatrists at one hospital prescribed anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications geared to treat his depression, but they, just like all the numerous well-intentioned medical professionals in Broward County, never followed a process to also treat his injured brain. Doctors from the University of Miami’s Concussion Program said that Brett had suffered multiple concussions. He was an amazing young man with a kind heart, a love for life, music, friends and family, and a zest for football. From March to May 2011, Brett’s quality of life improved greatly due to the correct diagnoses and treatment by the doctors at the University of Miami’s Concussion Program. But it was too late. Brett was not found to have CTE, but did have in his brain tissue an abnormal build-up of tau protein, which is found in brains with CTE. In 2011 Brett’s family incorporated The Daniel Brett Foundation, Inc. as a non-profit 501 (3) (c) organization and worked to get Florida’s Concussion Law passed in April 2012, which was dedicated to Daniel.–“Daniel Brett’s Legacy Donor Page”, Sports Legacy Institute, Diana Pilar Brett, Daniel’s mother.
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.
AL TOON, 51, receiver with the NY Jets, 1985-92, had at least 9 concussions before retiring at 29. He suffers from post-concussion syndrome, a chronic condition. The 1986 AFC Player of the Year completed a triathalon in 2004 and is on the boards of several organizations. He’s had residual effects from his condition, but won’t go into detail because he doesn’t want sympathy. His son, Nick Toon, is a receiver with New Orleans.
WAYNE CHREBET, 41, receiver with the NY Jets, 1995-2005, retired at 31 after his sixth concussion. 11/6/05: Knocked out cold by a hit after a catch. “I always said they were going to have to carry me off the field to get me to retire. Unfortunately they did.” Has good and bad days, some things get better, some worse. Wouldn’t discuss details because he doesn’t want sympathy. “Concerned about long-term effects.” Works in finance and is married with 3 sons.—“2 Ex-Jets Have Moved On, but Concussion Effects Linger”, NY Times 11/20/11, William C. Rhoden.
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.