Most of us have had concussions. Just living gets you your share of bumps, bruises, headaches and heartaches.
You never know the causes and conditions that lead us to being the combination of sparks and cells that we are this minute. Maybe my concussions kept me from being even more of a genius than I am right now.
I played football when I was a kid. Pop Warner. I was small, elven (think Peter Pan), and when I suited up in the pads, tights, stockings, jock strap, helmet and the rest I looked like a kid that just borrowed his big brother’s football uniform for halloween.
All that armor was really uncomfortable and heavy for this 80-pound kid. It was probably a good thing I was wearing protection because when I was12-years-old, Pop Warner was a full-contact sport. Those big kids from East San Jose couldn’t wait to knock my little pale head off.
Neither could my teammates.
One incident that sticks in my mind was when I was caught redhanded not running far enough or fast enough. I may have been hiding in the bushes to avoid another quarter-mile lap in the oppressive California heat, but I’m not sure. My recollection is a little foggy.
The coach pulled me out of the bushes where I was hiding and flagged down another player, the biggest, baddest guy on the team. The coach told the linebacker to, “Run Mr. Skinner over three times,” which he did with enthusiasm which I withstood,hurling myself into a fruitless tackle attempt at each oncoming freight train wreck.
I learned my lesson: Football wan’t for me. I was too small. It was for the biggest and the baddest boys.
During my one season as a tackle football player I sometimes gave it my best shot and I took my share of hits. I was on special teams, a fullback trained to return the occasional kickoff, like in our first game.
The first kick came right to me. In retrospect, this should come as no surprise as I was the smallest player on my team. I was as shocked as the next guy when I caught the football. This was my chance. I held the pigskin with both arms and planned to zig-zag my way up the field.
The oncoming defensive specialists closed on me much faster than I expected.
I jammed in my right foot and swiftly switched direction to the left, hoping to avoid the linebacker that was closing in on me while I looked for that end zone (which was nowhere near me). My opponent was not bluffed by my move and he fell upon me before I could even zag, punching upward while hitting me straight on.
Under pressure, the ball squirted twenty-feet into the air and fell slow-motion back to the field and into the possession of the motivated, oversized warriors from the other team. We were routed. Thankfully, in that game, I didn’t get my hands on the ball again.
It wasn’t until 2012 that the official policy at Pop Warner changed. They prohibited full, head-on contact and frontal tackling during practice. They finally figured out that running a child over repeatedly does not make the kid any better at getting run over.
As a skier and especially when I was learning to snowboard I crashed and burned and conked and concussed countless times. It’s part of the sport. I rode dirt bikes and snowmobiles, water skied and bungee jumped. I even skated head-on into a pier at night. There’s always been a whole lotta shakin’ going on. Come to think of it I’m thankful I can still think.
So, like many of you I can claim concussion and blame it for my lameness. We’ve all been bopped around. It’s amazing that we are not required by our mommies to wear helmets all the time.
NFL players are so strong and swift and focused that they are capable of delivering devastating blows to each other. Some coaches encouraged and rewarded players to take other players out.
In 2017, research into the donated brains of NFL players shows nearly universal injury resulting in chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In a medical journal JAMA study of 111 NFL brains, all but one came up with CTE, a cognitive degenerative brain disorder caused by too many bangs, bumps and shakes.
Military personnel who are exposed to explosions and concussive events also suffer CTE.
I stopped playing football. I got back into wrestling where my wiry build and light weight was a huge advantage. The coach wasn’t asking people to run me over. Wrestling is a civilized sport.
Steve Skinner notes that the according to the Wall Street Journal NFL football games feature only about 11 minutes of action. The rest is commercials, replays and cartoons of robots crashing into stuff. Reach him during the breaks at firstname.lastname@example.org.