Is Football Worth Dying For?

NY TIMES - A neuropathologist has examined the brains of 111 N.F.L. players — and 110 were found to have C.T.E., the degenerative disease linked to repeated blows to the head. 

This article came out last week and rightfully so, put a lot of fear into football players everywhere. If you play football, is it time to ask yourself "Is football worth dying for?"
Former first round pick Ryan Clady and big time nerd genius John Urschel decided to retire soon after.



Just as it seemed that NFL players were standing on a unified front, the second best safety in this years draft Jamal Adams (I'm a Malik Hooker fan) is quoted saying “Literally, I would — if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field." while sitting next to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

I've had 6, possibly 7 concussions in my lifetime. I played football from age 6 to age 24. At one point, I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Back in 2011, in a game against Bethany College I was hit pretty hard. I showed concussion symptoms all next week and sat out the next game. I returned the following week, but it was still too soon. In our game against Thomas More (2 weeks later) I was still having concussion related symptoms. I was hit again, hard. It was probably the opening clip to that kid's highlight reel. You're welcome. But, this would be my second concussion without recovering from the previous one, which is called Second Impact Syndrome.  Over the next 8 months, I felt off but had no idea why. This was before concussion research was kicked into overdrive. I just wasn't a fun person to be around. It wasn't until the Junior Seau story came out that I first heard the phrase "Post-Concussion Syndrome"

Do you know when you go on WebMD and type in your symptoms and you go from thinking you have a stomachache to an intestine-eating parasite? It's always a relief to get a definite answer to what's wrong with you. However, in this case, I didn't know how much they didn't know. I went to Dr. Micky Collins at UPMC who is considered one of the best concussion doctors in the world. I could not have been happier with how honest he was with me. But, that didn't make things any easier. I was told that my brain was working into overdrive to just keep me upright. The chemicals in my brain overcompensating for the injury were the same chemicals that cause anxiety and depression. 

Over the next year, I rehabbed my brain injury with balance & eye tests along with therapy. I learned about meditation and mindfulness. I was finally starting to feel like myself again. I give the same advice to anyone dealing with any type of mental/emotional disorder; learn everything you can. The more you know the more confident you can be about what's going on with you.

Not too long after, I learned about CTE. It scared the hell out of me. They compared the research around CTE and long term ramifications of concussions to the cigarettes in the 60's. For the record, cigarettes weren't cool then or now. I might actually take up smoking cigarettes rather than be caught with blowing an embarrassingly large amount of vape smoke in public. My mom actually vapes and we stopped talking 11 months ago because of it. No, I'm kidding. Stop vaping mom.

A brain injury isn't like a broken bone. They can't just do an X-Ray and tell you that you are okay now. There is so much uncertainty. I recommend the documentary by Chris Nowinsky titled Head Games. There's a book too, but don't be one of those people that read the book only to say "The book was better than the movie". Just watch the movie, it will open your eyes. 

I used to struggle to fall asleep, not knowing whether I would wake up. I was overreacting but how could anyone know if I really was? There was a tremendous football player and person by the name of Clint Derosa from the same town as me. Clint died from a brain aneurysm after suffering a concussion (Story) . I thought about this all the time. Not only because of how tragic it was, but could this be me? 

I actually started playing football again. I was intent on following my dreams to be a "Professional" Football Player. I'm not talking about semi-pro, pay to play but post on Facebook and try to fool everyone. I wanted to earn something. So I traveled to a village in Serbia and made got paid in meals and cell phone data. I won't go deep into my football career (NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP HIGHLIGHTS HERE) but I ended up stepping away and getting into boring adult life after playing in Poland because of the fear of future head injuries. Also, what kind of a life is one where you sit around and eat pierogis all day? That's actually how I envision my life. I'll be back, Szczecin.

Even today, there's the "what if" of what impact my brain injuries will have on my future health. There is no concrete answer. The troubling statistic I see is that they have only tested 110 brains. They are nowhere close to really knowing. This means I'm nowhere close to really knowing. I don't live in fear but there is a part of me that wonders.

The NFL has stepped it up as far as the way they treat concussions. They now have independent neurologists on the field. There have been frequent rule changes as well. All of these are necessary. Despite what a person that spends their Sundays flicking off the tv and giving football analysis without ever making it through football camp says; these rules are worth it. But, I think Roger Goodell is an idiot and the denial culture put in place by the NFL has been widely documented. Go watch Concussion

Is football worth dying for? No, it's not. Granted, I was playing on concrete fields and these individuals are playing for millions of dollars. However, I think that's even a better reason to step away early. Get a couple million, be smart with the money, get a cameo on HBO's Ballers, become an analyst, and just do whatever you want for the rest of your life. 

I remember being nothing more than a shell of myself and I can't imagine the rest of my life spent like that. I would consider a brain injury worse than death. You are standing, you are breathing, your limbs work, you seem fine, but nothing feels okay and no one has any idea. You have no control while seeming like you do and feeling at times like you do. I'm glad I stepped away when I did. 

Jordon Rooney
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