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Notes from a Hitter: How Football Battered My Brain | VICE

Image of Notes from a Hitter: How Football Battered My Brain  | VICE

By the age of 18, I had undergone enough head trauma playing football to cause irrevocable damage to my brain. The three (documented) concussions I experienced resulted in a seizure disorder I will deal with for the rest of my life. I don’t discount my own role in the seizures I’ve had—some of them were partially due to poor decisions, lack of sleep, and excessive alcohol consumption—but according to my neurologist, my condition is undoubtedly caused by brain injuries suffered as a high school linebacker whose only goal at the time was to prove to his toughness to his teammates, coaches, and himself. That meant hitting people, and that meant harming my brain.

I consider myself lucky. Lifestyle changes and daily doses of an anticonvulsant have rendered my seizure disorder latent; its effect on my life is now minimal. More importantly, my mental faculties have remained intact enough to allow me to launch a (so far unsuccessful) writing career. Many NFL players aren’t nearly as fortunate—some have committed suicide, presumably due to the mental deterioration caused by their lengthy careers, including Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest rather than the head so his brain could be studied by neurologists after his death, and Junior Seau, whose family is suing the NFL. I hope that every player on the field during the Super Bowl lives a full, long life and doesn’t suffer any mental difficulties as a result of his career—but I know some probably will, and some will have much worse problems than I do.

My current neurological deficiencies were precipitated by what now, in hindsight, increasingly feels like a psychological illness: I enjoyed the violence of football. Hitting was my greatest talent and I reveled in the attention it afforded me. Toughness, as measured by a player’s capacity to both inflict and endure pain, was a precious commodity I was eager to reap. Concussing an opponent was never a concern of mine—in fact, on one occasion a coach applauded me for doing so. Likewise, I frequently downplayed the severity of post-hit dazes, because “getting my bell rung” was not the same as being concussed.

If my former penchant for gridiron violence or the brain impairment I now suffer unsettles you, then I must assume you belong to the increasingly small portion of the American public that pays no mind to football—not even the Super Bowl—lest you be a hypocrite. Football is an inherently violent sport, concussions are an inevitability of that violence and you, the passive fan, tacitly endorse the human cost by watching.


 

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