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The Virginian — Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)
THE NCAA recently reached a major milestone — surpassing $1 billion in revenue. Sadly, this profit was earned on the backs of hundreds of thousands of college football players across the country who are sacrificing their health so the NCAA can make big money.
Football was, and still is, a rough game. When my teammates and I played at the University of Richmond, we were encouraged to play as hard as we could and attack our opponents with the goal of incapacitating them.
We did not think, nor were we told, about any risks involved in the game. We just hit as hard as we could to ensure that we were standing and our opponents were on the ground. Hitting with our heads was supposedly the best way to accomplish that, and we were taught to look for the numbers on our opponents' uniforms and ram our helmets into their chests.
The treatment and education around concussive and sub-concussive hits at the University of Richmond was almost nonexistent, as it was at many other NCAA schools. When we sustained noticeably bad hits, we were told to just shake it off. We listened to our coaches. We did not know any better.
It was not just the coaches and team training staff who let us down, though. The NCAA, which was created to regulate college football and protect the players under its care, completely failed in its duties.
The NCAA has known about the health risks associated with football for decades, yet it turned a blind eye in order to make more money. It is crystal clear that the NCAA only cares about its bottom line — not the health and well-being of players like me. As a result of the NCAA's negligence and misguided priorities, my teammates and I suffered through many practices and games; now we suffer from devastating health problems.
Playing defensive tackle, I received countless blows to the head that were never properly addressed — and potentially hundreds of undiagnosed concussions. One particularly bad concussion knocked me out and had me seeing stars when I came to. For a month after that hit, my eyes juddered and I lost my equilibrium. To walk straight, I had to balance myself on objects nearby.
Today, I still have serious equilibrium problems. I also struggle to focus, have horrible short-term memory, and experience violent mood swings and episodes of rage. I used to be an easygoing person, but that has all changed. I am terrified of what the future might hold for me: Will I develop diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's? Many other former players are scared of the same thing.
Until recently, I did not understand that my health challenges today are directly related to the head trauma I sustained while playing college football. It was only when I heard about football players committing suicide and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) became a buzzword that I decided to see a doctor. After a brain scan, the doctor confirmed what I already suspected: My brain was severely damaged from football.
I have joined more than 100 former college football players in a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA. We hope this lawsuit will not only provide us with the resources we need to treat our health problems, but also to spur positive change in the game overall. Many former players still love the game and hope to see it thrive, but only with the proper protections, education and equipment to protect student-athletes.
I am sometimes asked if I would do it all over again, and that is a tough question to answer. The fact is, football is a part of who I am. I love the game and do not want to see it end. But if I could go back, I would want the adults responsible for the well-being of student-athletes to be much more mindful of our health and the impact football can have on players' futures. I would want student-athletes to know that a helmet is nothing more than a false sense of security; and I would want the rules of the game to protect athletes. We need to do more than just maximize revenue for the NCAA and schools.
The NCAA needs to step up and do more for those playing today, and make amends for its past. Former players cannot change the fact that we were not informed about the long-term consequences of playing football. But we can do our part to make sure current and future college football players get the education and protection they need — and deserve.
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