SPORTS TALK: How I once got a concussion playing football … and can’t really remember it

by James McCarthy- March 4, 2018

It’s amazing what a generation can do.

Back when I played youth sports, all we wanted to do was get out there, win the game, make fun of the other team because we beat them and then pile back pizza/fries/hot dogs/insert any other sort of junk food kids eat after a game.

We were kids and it didn’t matter. We were all invincible.

Not so easy nowadays. We aren’t invincible and there’s proof.

Mental health in sports has become one of the most talked-about issues surrounding athletes and with good reason. We now know concussions can affect how we go through life. Used to be if we bumped our heads, a good dose of Tylenol and some rest was all we needed. Concussions? That only happened to adults and anyone who wasn’t us.

I’m almost positive I suffered concussions during my days playing high school football. Now that I think about it, I know I did.

Yeah, the helmets were big and well-padded but head-to-head hits were common because even though we were taught how to tackle and how to take a hit, nothing salivated my young mouth more than lining up the poor schmuck carrying the ball and knocking him six ways from Sunday, head health be damned.

The late Derek Boogaard is one example of how concussions can ruin a life. He died in 2011 after overdosing on a painkiller while recovering one of his many concussions. photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Here’s one instance of how I know I probably suffered a bad concussion:

I was a defensive lineman during my high school football days in 1997. I threw a hit in one game against W.A. Porter Collegiate, which was one of those target-in-the-crosshairs type of hits. I remember going after the ball carrier but I don’t remember the impact when I hit him. My teammates helped me up and I thanked them. One of the officials came over and told me I might want to sit out a few plays because I was on the ground for about 15 seconds. I don’t remember being laid out for 15 seconds. I just remember being helped up.

As I was heading off, I remember my hands going numb and my legs feeling like 100 pounds of Jell-O. My coach noticed it right away and helped me to the sideline (at least I think he did because my memory of that is still foggy) where he asked me to squeeze his hand.

He implored me to squeeze. I was, I told him. He told me to keep going. I swear I was trying. He benched me for the rest of that game as a precaution. I trusted him because he was the coach. He knew what he was doing and we didn’t question him.

Yet I still don’t remember most of what happened that game. I remember sitting in the locker room leaning up against the wall and complaining of an awful headache. One of my teammates gave me some Tylenol, which was great because the headache went away by the time I got home.

The days afterward, though, was when it got bad.

I couldn’t concentrate in class. Bright lights bothered me. I couldn’t sit for longer than an hour without getting agitated. I ended up signing myself out of school to go home and just be away from everything. My coach found me in the halls and asked if I was okay and I told him I was just having some bad headaches but I’d be back to practice as soon as I could. He suggested going to see a doctor, which I did not do because I was young, dumb and oozing testosterone worse than a ruptured oil line in the Gulf of Mexico.

I went back to practice after about a week off and I thought everything was fine. I felt fine and I played alright. I probably wasn’t but adrenaline was one of those things which made us young athletes feel invincible.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have known I had suffered a severe concussion. I don’t even know if my coach knew at the time because concussions weren’t being taken as seriously as they are now. There was no real concussion test that was administered because it wasn’t seen as a serious problem back then.

Thankfully, that event hasn’t affected me in adult life but I’m one of the lucky ones. There are young athletes who have suffered concussion after concussion and they end up being so nonfunctional in their later years that even waking up in the morning is a chore. That’s a tragedy and one I can sympathize with.

I know of one hockey player in Yellowknife who suffered seven concussions in six years playing minor hockey and even into his major junior days. When you’re suffering from that many, it might be time to think about doing something else. The concussion I suffered that day made me realize that I should stick to softball because the risk of a concussion in softball, while still prevalent, was a whole helluva lot less than playing football.

Take it from me – if there’s even the slightest notion you may have suffered a concussion playing any type of sport, get help. Most hospitals and health care professionals know how to administer a standard concussion test and can determine whether you have one. I didn’t, and while it didn’t cost me anything in life, I wish I had gone to the damned hospital when I was told to.

The world of professional sports has become much improved in catching concussions and it’s almost as if they were shamed into doing it. How many players have we heard about who either couldn’t function after retirement? Or committed suicide? Or ended up broke on the streets? So many sad tales that don’t have to be like that because the help wasn’t there at the time. It’s there now.

It’s okay to ask for help if you need it. No one will think any less of you as a person because no one knows you’re in need unless you ask. If people do think less of you, remember that they’re less of a person than you are.

Your mental health is perhaps the most important thing you have. Keep yourself healthy. You only have one shot in life to do it.

One Reply to “SPORTS TALK: How I once got a concussion playing football … and can’t really remember it”

    Great article James. Most of our youth play in organizations with no access to sideline medical staff. Parents and coaches watch the NFL and NHL get it very wrong every week and base their on field decisions on what they see. They need a safety system which provides them education, ability to document and communicate, and give oversight to the remove from play and return to play decisions. And this system needs to include more that just brain injury. What about sudden cardiac arrest, heat, anaphylaxis, seizures, asthma, etc? See

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