The Contagion – Football Concussions

Football Concussions Strike Again

By Gordon Johnson

I make my living representing brain injury survivors. I have been doing that for more than 20 years. Since I first became a brain injury lawyer, I have been concerned about what seems to be the contagious nature of concussions.

I know that concussions are not a communicable disease. They are caused by traumatic, not infectious sources. Yet as they say, Karma is a bitch. As a survivor myself of a significant brain injury, my superstitious side doesn’t worry about an injury to myself. What I worry about is injury to those I care about.

I spent the summer writing a book about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). I live in an asymmetrical family, which means my brother in law is still young enough to be playing high school football. He is a big, athletic and very bright young man. He is so bright I am confident there is a place for him at a great university like my alma mater, Northwestern University. He also might have a future as an athlete. His middle school team won the state championship last year by a score of something like 42-0. He scored two touchdowns. His whole family is excited about his football career, my wife included.

As I wrote my CTE book, my wife was required to read every word. Payback. LOL. As she did, I kept pointing out to her that perhaps her brother ought to consider not playing football. She understood the book, understood the risks, but repeatedly said something to the effect that I am not going to tell him that he can’t play football. It was not my role to intervene. When he needed $150 for football fees last week that money came out of my pocket.

On my way back from a brain injury conference in Des Moines on Friday I got the text: My brother got a concussion in his first scrimmage.

I am a rational person. I do not believe in a higher purpose for people getting hurt. I have spent my life seeking justice from those whose mistakes hurt my clients. I know that my brother in law getting hurt is just fate being fate. My writing a book about CTE is not the reason he got a concussion. My being a brain injury lawyer is not why brain injury seems to jump from family member to family member like Ebola.

The reason TBI continues to impact my family is that brain injury is that common. 2 million diagnosed concussions a year, double that number with the undiagnosed. Playing football is one of those activities which will almost assuredly mean that you will at some point have a concussion.

I have not despaired of my brother in laws chances of going to Northwestern. If he is kept out of the game long enough, allowed to rest, to recover, his brain will get past this insult. This time. Probably. But I also wish that this would be a lesson to the rest of my family, that this young man’s brain is too valuable to waste any part of it, even if it is just his reserves.

Football wastes the brains of young people. Don’t let your young people play it. My child would not play football. Sadly, I have no control beyond that.



Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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