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Concussions in the NFL: A player tells his story

Concussions in the NFL: A player tells his story

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File photo

CLEVELAND, Ohio — “Football is 100 percent injury.”

These were the words of NFL receiver and returner Josh Cribbs, who was one of four panelists speaking out about concussions in football during the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) annual conference in Cleveland, Ohio last week.

Cribbs, one of two NFL players represented on the concussion panel, said he was of two minds when it comes to football and brain trauma. On one hand, Cribbs professed his unconditional love for America’s most popular team sport. But he spoke with equal emotion of how the game he loves comes with a high cost: Cribbs might not be able to live a full, healthy life because of the blows he took to the head during his 11-year professional career.

While his career might be coming to an end soon — Cribbs, 32, is a free agent and said he’d only want to play for the Cleveland Browns next season — the risks he faces will likely continue for several more years. And the former Kent State and Dunbar High School star now faces the prospect of his son wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue his own football career.

Cribbs’ 6-year-old son currently plays flag football in a youth league that teaches its young players proper tackling techniques. Providing such lessons early on, league officials hope, could result in fewer head injuries as players grow and pursue prep, collegiate and professional football careers.

But safer tackling techniques don’t eliminate Cribbs’ concerns about the effects of playing football, particularly when some of those injuries above the shoulders can lead to concussions or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“I want him to be happy,” Cribbs said when he was asked whether he would allow his son to pursue football ambitions, internally debating his response for several moments. He went on to say that his son would be allowed to play football if doing so made him happy. Ideally the younger Cribbs would pursue a football career while also being safe, said the elder Cribbs.

The stakes are especially high for NFL players, where every man has a nonguaranteed or partially guaranteed contract. That means there is almost always an incentive to play as many downs as possible, even if with serious injuries. A player who cannot play on Sunday afternoon might not have a contract come Tuesday morning. Players fear being perceived as damaged goods by other teams. There are millions of dollars on the line. Some players, including Cribbs, made every effort to cover up the symptoms of concussion to ensure they continue to play the game the love (and the paychecks keep coming).

From left, NFL free agent Josh Cribbs, Charles Bernick of the Cleveland Clinic, ESPN senior coordinating producer Dwayne Bray, and former NFL receiver Steve Sanders recently spoke about the risks of concussions during the AHCJ 2016 conference in Cleveland. (Photo by Parimal M. Rohit)

Cribbs recalls one game where he was knocked down by a defender and returned to his feet in a daze. As he returned to the sidelines, Cribbs knew he would be assessed for a possible concussion. He was asked a common question in such situations by team staff: “Who is our opponent?”

Naming the wrong opponent (or no opponent at all) would be a red flag to the team staff and spur more questioning or testing to determine whether the player is suffering from a concussive injury.

On this particular Sunday Cribbs was knocked down so hard he had no clue which team was on the opposing sideline when asked. Cribbs did all he could to stall and buy enough time to come up with the correct answer. At first he feigned being out of breath. He requested a few moments on the bench.

Finally, he was asked again: “Who is our opponent?”

Cribbs still had no idea and made another attempt to stall.

Moments later Cribbs heard a whistle on the field. He jumped up from the bench and dramatically pointed in the general direction of the whistle, as if Cribbs witnessed something significant on the field. The staff surrounding him looked toward the direction Cribbs pointed, while he looked the other way and glanced at the scoreboard.

When the team staff returned their attention to Cribbs, he immediately told them the answer to their questions: the Denver Broncos.

The answer was good enough for the team’s medical staff. But Cribbs’ coach was not fully convinced. Cribbs begged and pleaded. When Cribbs told his head coach the doctors had cleared him to play — based upon his correct identification of Denver Broncos as game opponent — only then did he reluctantly allow his player onto the field. As the story suggests, concussion protocols don’t always keep injured players off the field.

What price NFL players will ultimately pay varies from player to player. Cribbs had his brain analyzed recently and was told his brain resembled that of a 52-year-old. Since Cribbs is 32, the condition of his brain likely the result of his many years of playing youth, prep, college and professional football.

Charles Bernick, a panelist who also serves as the medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, said we still do not know enough about the connection between concussions and CTE in football. Fellow panelist Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer at ESPN, said that growing media coverage of sports-related concussions will bring much needed attention to the issue and help find answers. Former NFL receiver and Training Camp for Life founder Steve Sanders is doing his part by helping youth football players learn proper tackling techniques.

[Lead photo by John McStravick via Flickr.]


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The hard plastic helmet has been a problem since day one... It inflicts motion to others and does not protect the wearing player. The companies hide behind warning labels and a self funded legal smokescreen NOCSAE...

The hard helmet is the main danger on the field.. on all levels Pee Wee to Pro...!

Helmets can be made to absorb motion...reduce hit velocity .. and better protect payers..!

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Malcom, you are right about the hardness of the helmets, but the real problem is how they are not cracking down on helmet to helmet hits, its truly just unbelievable. I believe that its not the hard outer shell that fails in protecting these players, but what's inside of these helmets that's not doing the job of stopping concussions. I have a way to protect against concussions, and this is without any padding inside of the helmet, but the NFL refuses to even look at this system, and my question is why. Its probably a conflict of interest with the NFL and the manufacturers, I suspect.

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I have the only way to prevent concussions in all contact sports, and this is without any padding inside of the helmet. The big problem is that the NFL, the Manufacturers and everyone else that is associated with concussions and that includes all of the groups receiving funded money from different orgs. The way I look at it, there is no money in a cure for concussions, only in the research, and because of this there will never be a cure, at least until now. The sad thing about this is that the players who play this violent game are the ones who will suffer because of the greed of these parasites.

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With the seriousness of concussions and the affects of CTE, why is it that the NFL, Pop Warner USA football and everybody else totally ignores the fact that there is a way to prevent concussions. You would think that the NFL and their engineers would at least take a look at something that just might fix this concussion problem. Believe me when I say this, sooner or later, the NFL will come begging for my device, I promise!!

Picture of jon xia

When you get a concussions, doctors normally has nothing to offer besides bed rest. Now a high tech glucose product may help. Brainglucose was developed for Alzheimer's patients with symptoms of nightmares, night sweats and hallucinations. It helps energy supply at later night when memories are undergoing repair. For the same reason it may help prevent football players from getting CTE. Since it is of pure glucose, nothing can hurt like drinking Gatorade.

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Yes, its me again. I have tried in vain to show and explain to Jeff Miller that I have a system that will stop a concussion dead in its tracks, and this is without any padding inside of the helmet. I wonder what ever happened to Do Diligence. I have also been in direct contact with Jeff Crandell, lead Engineer of the NFL, and that has not bore any fruit what's so ever. If you think that I'm crazy, just go to you tube and do a search for concussion proof helmet, and you will soon find out that I'm not crazy nor am I not a emvisole.

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Hi Thomas, I have read your messages and share your concern about the poor solution to bribery.
I am an Italian entrepreneur who is launching a healthcare platform regarding CTE and PCS for athletes in USA, and I am intrigued by your proposed solution.
Is there any way we can talk about it together?
best regards

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