The Blind Side: Concussions, Science, and the Future

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The Fier Family, 2009
The Fier Family (Janice, Matt, Tim left to right)

It’s Raining, It’s Pouring.

The rain started to really fall from the sky, turning a slight mist into a drizzle in a matter of seconds. The thumping of drops sounded more like drum beats. I came to, after being knocked unconscious and carried from the middle of football drills to the sideline, to my teammate muttering something about our collision.

It wasn’t my first concussion that season. I’m not sure if it’s because I have a larger-than-life noggin, or because my tackling form was based off ESPN’s Jacked Up highlight reels, but I was more concussion prone than Wes Welker over the middle.

I was 16, barely a sophomore, and just wanted to play ball.

I played at the tail end of the concussion-ignorance era. Concussion-concern was new territory, with little information and little support. Back then, there were no real tests except the balance and the presence of headaches. To this day, I’m not sure if I had repeated concussions (mostly from football), or if I had a few that I simply never healed from. Regardless, I stopped reporting (e.g., caring) after my 6th concussion made it to the medical report. I was 16, barely a sophomore, and just wanted to play ball.

In 2009, my playing days would be over (concussions, a torn ACL, and a fractured back later…). I had a few recruitment letters collecting dust on my desk, but I had another phone number and email address on top of them: Concussion Legacy Foundation (formally, the Sports Legacy Institute). Being of the major players involved with Bennett Omalu, they had made some small ripples in the sports community touting Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) before anyone would accept its existence.

I emailed them, telling them my medical history and my concern for my future. Back then, they had one response: “There are no tests yet. You are at a high risk, but everyone who played contact sports are. You can come out here and be apart of studies, but you’d have to take a year off of school.”

This is a normal brain vs. a brain with evidence of CTE. Photo: Concussion Legacy Foundation
This is a normal brain vs. a brain with evidence of CTE. Photo: PBS

Luckily for me, most of you probably know about CTE or have seen the movie Concussion (disclaimer: I haven’t yet, mainly out of fear I’ll cry in the theater). According to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, symptoms of CTE can include: “Memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and eventually progressive dementia […]

“Symptoms can begin to appear months, years, or even decades after trauma has ended.” Other side affects can include temporary loss of vision, blurriness, balance issues, and ringing in the ears.” Here’s the kicker: Since 2008 – despite the advances – the only way to officially diagnose CTE is post-mortem (that’s fancy talk for after death). They open the brain and look at the tissues to see what kind of plaque buildup has taken place.

I love sports and being active. I love football and the glory that came from hitting a QB. I love barreling down the Mt. Hood on my snowboard and riding a jet-ski at 40 mph on the Columbia River.

But I hate the headaches, I hate the days my eyes can’t focus, and I hate the ringing in my ears. I also hate the idea of kids not being able to enjoy life, living in some computerized bubble, because parents are (rightfully) afraid of them turning into Junior Seau, Frank Gifford, or Tyler Sash.

We all have a responsibility for today, tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow.

So, that’s why after processing the next generation’s future, I’ve decided to donate my brain to science. I want to see football safer. I don’t want to see anymore people drive their cars off cliffs. I don’t want to hear about guys’ beating their spouses and then turning a gun on themselves because they can’t stop their mind from telling their body to do crazy things. I’m afraid I’ll hit my mid-50s and no longer recognize my kids.

My future and the possibility of CTE is not something I can dwell on, but it’s something that I have to live with. So until they find a solution, we should take notice…not to live in fear, but to make a difference. Do everything you can for yourself, or for someone that you love who has gone through multiple concussions. Do what you can to raise awareness, raise fundraising, or even donate your brain.

We all have a responsibility for today, tomorrow, and tomorrow’s tomorrow.

I'm a former Bible-school grad with a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Biblical Studies. I've lived in five cities in five states since 2009, and had a lot of adventures. I'm now searching for The Renaissance in all of us. You can learn more here.


One Response

  1. Great article. Thanks for helping keep this important sports issue in front of the public.

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