Football Brain

A brief journey together through the NCAA's concussion settlement medical questionnaire.

Feeling a mild headache after my first live contact in football practice was a regular occurrence. When I first felt them playing in grade school, I said nothing. I wanted to maintain a tough football façade and not lose face with my coaches, local dads with paunches and desk jobs. Moving into high school, the headaches became a quotidian part of practice, ingrained into the experience in the same way you knew there’d be water to drink and grass to play on.

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It was only after former NFL players started killing themselves that serious attention was paid to the issue of concussions in football. It turns out that banging your head for years on end can cause symptoms such as depression, anxiety, early-onset Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other brain malfunctions. That attention eventually made its way to the NCAA, the governing body of major college athletics. The organization moved with the same urgency to resolve the issue that most of us devote to scheduling our next dental checkup.

In response, a bunch of former athletes ended up pissed and filed a class-action lawsuit against the NCAA. On August 13th, 2019, a settlement was reached in the suit between the NCAA and current and former NCAA student-athletes. Claimants stated that the NCAA had:

…been negligent and breached its duty to protect current and former student-athletes by failing to adopt appropriate rules regarding concussions and/or manage the risks from concussions.

As part of the settlement, all qualifying current and former NCAA student-athletes will receive, among other benefits, medical monitoring around concussion symptoms.

Those same headaches accompanied my Slipknot hoodie and Nintendo64 as I made the journey from high school football hobbyist in Colorado to 40 hour-a-week football amateur for the Yale University Bulldogs. This makes me a qualified participant in the settlement outlined above. However, receiving any sort of ongoing medical treatment is contingent upon answering 150 or so medically-related questions.

Rather than spout a mundane take on the potpourri of ways the NCAA has botched its handling of concussions in its most profitable sport (several of the largest NCAA football programs generated over $150 million in revenue in 2019), I thought it would be enjoyable to walk you all through the line of questioning that stands between me and receiving the NCAA’s minimum medical treatment.

About 30 or so of the questions were of the true/false variety. Several of them felt slightly strange, but made sense when contextualized by concussion symptoms. For instance:

For every one of the above, another question would present itself to make you wonder if the NCAA didn’t have ulterior motives:

I started to think the NCAA wasn’t evaluating whether I was experiencing concussion symptoms, but rather, trying to limit my access to credit or anything flammable. Considering there are thousands of people who have never played a day of sports in their lives that believe children are being trafficked around the world in office cabinets, the question above seems to have more to do with the lack of critical reasoning than it does with lingering effects from repeated concussions.

Fortunately, this question gives me room to blame my belief that cars are highly evolved horses sent here from the future on my time spent receiving miniature concussions.

The other portion of the questionnaire was a series of multiple choice questions that asked you to reflect on the last decade of your life in the following manner…

…As in, are things the same, or much worse than they were ten years ago?

You were provided a prompt or a sort of daily activity and had to respond using one of the four selections above. Here’s a sampling:

These were easy, I was cruising to primo score that proved my brain worked flawlessly. Then out of nowhere appeared a delightfully anachronistic take on how the NCAA imagines daily life:

The NCAA had begun to sow doubt in the verdant pastures of my mind. I couldn’t remember where I’d even left the checkbook. I pondered if I should’ve been balancing it all along and that for years I’d been shirking some key part of my responsibilities. If I’d been balancing my checkbook over the years, I’d be writing this from my Tesla, rather than a Macbook.

Other questions spurred me to think more broadly about the world and my place in it:

Thoughts on salvation oozed into my inner monologue. What if the NCAA is right and fate's determined by phone number? If it’s as simple as that, can I put my sleepless nights worrying about god’s wrath to bed, knowing that it’s completely random? Is AT&T god? Is Verizon god? Is omnipotence in telecom-polytheism correlated to market share?

Other questions were more literary in nature. My reading of the below is that our dancing shadow is our inner child, which sees the sun set upon it and yearns to be free. We lock our shadows out with rules and norms, restricting our access to the joyousness of youth.

Thank you NCAA for the reminder to let the bliss in.

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Song of the week: A jubilant celebration of our lord, using a mundane adjective. ‘He’s Alright’ by Jasper Street Co: