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How do you approach football knowing what we now know about concussions and CTE?

We live in a world where Will Smith starred in a movie CTE concussion research. I don’t need to tell you that if Will Smith takes something seriously, we probably should listen.

I have been playing football since the 5th grade and now am halfway through my final season as a senior in college. Football has been a big part of my life and a bigger part of American culture. This makes the new knowledge that develops every day about concussions and CTE hard to swallow as a guy who came back to play one more year. It causes an internal conflict about whether or not I should have ever played the sport or, down the line, if I should even let my children participate. Seeing the situations that occurred with Aaron Hernandez, Junior Seau, Jovan Belcher, all players that have been linked to the disease after death, CTE is a very concerning issue that I think about often.

CTE is short for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It is a neurodegenerative disease that is caused by having multiple head injuries. It is becoming more and more relevant as we gain knowledge of what it is and how it affects athletes. Essentially, the brain releases proteins that choke the brain of oxygen, and create enumerable problems later in life.

Concussions have been a hot topic in the football world in recent years. As recently as this month, Boston University is developing the means to diagnose CTE in living patients. I think the best way to approach the game is just by being as cautious as possible with your health. Don’t try and be the “tough guy” by playing through every injury. The game of football has evolved to the point where being tough doesn’t mean not drinking water or concealing a broken bone, and the same can be said for head injuries. It is essential to communicate with the training staff and coaches to ensure that you are taking the necessary steps to take care of your body. Concussions are an extremely serious issue that should be treated as soon as there is a sign.

I’ve tried to be more aware of how I’m feeling during games and practices if I happen to take a hit to the head or engage in a big collision. Having suffered through two concussions so far in my football career, I’d be lying if I said I don’t try to be extra cautious knowing what they can do to me. Part of me is happy that this is my final season because that means I am less at risk of putting my brain through any more potential trauma from contact to the head. Some of these NFL players take years off their lives playing that sport, and that is certainly something that scares me. What makes it even worse is that it isn’t just the big hits that can cause problems in your future; the minor ones can take a toll as well.

The future of football will ultimately be defined by how it evolves regarding CTE. I just hope I stay healthy long enough to reflect on that future.

This article first appeared in the Friday, October 13, 2017, Edition of The Echo.