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I went to every football game my son played in. That wasn't easy since Tyler played all through high school. I drove Tyler home after every game. Not a pretty experience if his team lost or he thought he made a stupid play even if they did win. Silence the whole ride home. One time, mid-week, my husband showed up at a game. Tyler thanked him profusely. On the way home I said to him, "Honey, I come to every game and you never thank me..." He turned to me and replied the obvious, "You're a mom - you have to come." Which apparently was in my job description.
When Tyler went cross-country from New Jersey to California for college, I suspect he thought we were following him. And maybe that was a teensy bit true, but my husband had just gotten a terrific job in LA and I was a sitcom writer and had been bi-coastal for years. So the good news/bad news was that I got to go to every college football game as well. Still I never saw one of them. During each play, my whole time was spent with my head buried in my husband's arm quietly asking, "Is he still alive?"
Tyler was a defensive back. He had to fend off all of the running backs and receivers who were in full stampede towards him. To me they looked like a death squad. Honestly, I swear some of the colleges he played had recruited ex-con gorillas. 6'1" and 165 pounds, there was no way he could fend off all these barbarians. Four times he ended up with minor concussions. "No big deal," he would assure me. Right. There is no such thing as a minor concussion to a mom. At graduation I heaved a deep sigh of relief. He had made it and the pros weren't knocking on his door to sign him up. It was finally over - or so I thought.
In 2009, a study commissioned by the National Football League reported that Alzheimer's Disease or similar memory-related diseases appeared to have been diagnosed in the league's former players vastly more often than in the national population - including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49. My son is 37.
The N.F.L. had long denied the existence of reliable data about cognitive decline among its players. These numbers were the league's first public affirmation of any connection. And there's more. Since the initial study, researchers have discovered that 1 in 3 retired football players have mild cognitive impairment.
The findings could ring loud at the youth and college levels, which often take cues from the N.F.L. on safety policies. Hundreds of on-field concussions are sustained weekly at every level, with many going undiagnosed and untreated.
So once again, it is up to us - Football Moms and Grandmoms - to make a difference NOW. We need money to go into research to find a way to stop dementia/Alzheimer's before our boys become victims. Write to your US Reps and both Senators to tell them this is an immediate need. It's too late for John Mackey or Phil Pihos, but we are in a race against time. This is no longer about that little old lady in her rocking chair in the corner. This is about our sons and grandsons!
Photo credit: Andy Mc via Flickr