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The Scary Reality Of Concussions

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With Ben Hamilton still feeling the effects of a concussion suffered in Training Camp nearly 7 weeks ago, my thougths about concussions and the effects they leave on the players that suffer them was surely peaked.  We have all heard the stories, players like Merrill Hoge of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears who saw his career end after a pair of concussions in 1994.  Do we really get how serious the problem is, or what the longterm remifications can be?  

I'll be honest, and I am sure I am like most fans everywhere.  Your favorite player on your favorite team gets dinged, and you hear he has a slight concussion.  "Get back in the game!" I say to myself.  And if that player begins to miss games it becomes the natural reaction of fans to begin to get, let's say, impatient.  Because of the marvels of modern medical technology, we have "belittled" the severity of serious injuries, making torn ACL's and pulled groins and even concussions seem "minor" where should any of these happen to us we would know how serious they actually are.

When it comes to concussions, the worst part is what we do not know.  You look at the stories of guys like Mike Webster, an all-time great during his time with the Steelers, who died broke, living in the back of his car.  Suffering from depression, and a multitude of addictions, Webster was looked at as an example of everything not to do after an NFL Career.  Only now is it being suggested that concussions can cause serious mental-health issues, and that Webster's behavior was a direct result of the dozens of concussions Webster unknowingly suffered.

Even today, in a time where injuries to the head are taken very, very seriously, there are examples of the lack of knowledge we have towards head injuries have negative impacts on the players who suffer them.

A 2005 study by the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes said former NFL players who suffered three or more concussions are five times more likely to have cognitive problems and three times more likely to have serious memory lapses than players without a history of concussions. Another study revealed that players with three or more concussions are three times more likely to suffer from depression. The NFL, which refutes the findings, says it will spend $2 million to conduct its own study.

Former NY Jets reciever Wayne Chrebet was honored this past weekend for his 11-seasons wearing a Jets uniform.  Chrebet was an inspiration to guys like me who aren't 6-5, 230.  Always told he was too small, or too slow, Chrebet became the Jets 2nd leading receiver amassing 580 receptions and 7365 yards.   Chrebet was the ultimate over-achiever and that sells big in a town like New York City.

Chrebet was forced to retire after the 2005 season after sustaining six documented concussions, though most people think the number is closer 12.  Chrebet may look fine on the outside, but is far from it on the insidea --

"I have good days and bad days," Chrebet says. "A bad day is when you can't get out of bed and there's this dark cloud hanging over your head. A good day is anything else. But you know right away. I know as soon as I wake up what kind of day it'll be.

"Sometimes the bad days and good days go back and forth. Sometimes you get a bunch of them in a row. It's not an exact science. The bad days happen. You just try to make the best of it. But when it's bad, it's really bad. It's not the kind of thing you can talk yourself out of. If it was, I would do it."

Five minutes into an interview this week, he admits that he can't remember the reporter's name. "I remember the faces, not the names," he says. He loses his car keys like anyone else, "but it just happens to me more than other people." He'd like to meditate or read, but he can't concentrate enough.

He can't make the drive from his home in Colts Neck, N.J., to Hempstead, or anywhere, without a navigational system. He remembers the time, after one of his final games, when he drove from the stadium to a house where he no longer lived. His wife directed him home.

"If it wasn't for the GPS in my car, I'd be in trouble," Chrebet says. "If I have one of those, I'm usually fine. If not, I panic."

When I hear comments like that it enlightens me to just what Ben Hamilton might be going through.  The Broncos have always been ahead of the curve in the way they have handled concussions, and Hamilton himself says that the new regulations are not the reason he is not playing.  For the sake of Hamilton and his future, long after football, I hope he is patient and cautious in his return to the field even if some of us fans find it hard to be.