Kevin Brooks has no regrets about playing football, which included stints at the University of Michigan and with the Dallas Cowboys. After all, his time on the gridiron provided the chance for a college education and to do what many only dream of, playing in the NFL.
Still, with all the positive memories from those years, which ended in the early 1990s, there are also some lasting scars.
One of the biggest for Brooks, a defensive lineman with the Cowboys in the late 1980s, is what’s called Traumatic Brain Injury, the result of those many years of head-on collisions with opposing linemen and ball carriers.
“Traumatic Brain Injury is an injury to the head where the brain is tossed around a little bit,” Brooks said. “What makes it traumatic is that it keeps happening over and over again.”
He added, “I have white spots on my brain from concussions and things like that; I have gone through all kinds of testing.”
What Brooks and others are doing now is attempting to “bring awareness” about TBI, and the need to check for it, whether the athlete an adult, teenager or child.
Sports-related brain injuries have been in the news quite a bit lately, the result of concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL and the suicides of several prominent ex-players, such as linebacker Junior Seau, which many believe are related to brain damage or disease.
In Seau’s case, his brain showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease that can lead to dementia, memory loss and depression. Seau was well known as a hard-hitting linebacker, and he played for more than 20 years in the NFL.
Both he and Brooks suffered their brain-related diseases from playing a game built on hitting and hard physical contact. However, football does not have a monopoly on impact-related neurological problems.
They can also be suffered in other sports such as basketball, soccer and baseball, where a blow to the head could result in bigger problems if not checked out soon enough. Also, youngsters can suffer brain injuries from falls when engaging in activities like skateboarding, Brooks noted, and adults can suffer severe brain injuries from falls too.
“We want to bring awareness that it can happen, and if (a possible brain injury) does happen … whatever sport it is, take some time out and get it tested,” Brooks said. “Do some research on it.” Parents, in particular, should be aware of signs that brain injuries have occurred, he said, which include lethargy, blurred vision, lazy eye and vomiting.
As a young man playing football, Brooks said he suffered from these symptoms and still suffers blurred vision, constant headaches and memory problems.
If a parent believes their son or daughter has suffered a severe head injury, like a concussion, Brooks said they should get them to a doctor for examination.
“You don’t want to be on the other side of that injury; you want to stay ahead of it,” Brooks said.
Trying to “stay ahead” of brain-related injuries is being done at the school level, particularly in sports where head injuries occur.
Sachse soccer coaches Kristen Campbell (girls) and Jacob Bruehl (boys) note that if any player displays concussion-like symptoms he or she gets referred to a doctor for examination. If the player suffers a concussion, medical clearance is necessary for him or her to return to action. Even if there is no concussion, the student must wait five days from the time he or she sees a doctor to get back on the field.
The Lady Mustangs have had their fair share head injuries. In fact, the policy of requiring examination proved fruitful last season, when a player, after being struck by a ball, began to show signs of a head injury or possible concussion.
She was later diagnosed with having a benign cyst, which was removed.
“There is no other sport where you head the ball,” Campbell noted. “It (head injury) does occur a lot more often than (people realize).”
Soccer is one of the few sports where players don’t where protective headgear, Bruehl noted, although he believes that could change at the prep level over the next few years.
“I wouldn’t be opposed it. I think it would be a good idea,” he said.
Greg Ford is the sports editor for C&S Media, Inc.