Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum
November 12, 2012, 2:31 am
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It would have been so easy for former Chicago Bears Otis Wilson and Gary Fencik to give the politically correct answers to reducing head injuries.
Sure, players will take themselves out of the game if theyre woozy after a hit. Sure, players will readily tell team doctors and coaches when theyre not feeling right. Sure, the cautionary tales of those suffering lingering concussion issues and those whose premature deaths may have been related to those problems will get through to todays players.
But Wilson and Fencik know a football players mentality.
They know that pride, fear and uncertainty will keep most players from admitting something might be wrong. Still, the two former Bears know that the message still has to be delivered. And the more they and others talk, the more players will listen.
The Bears, with the U.S. Army, hosted a Health and Safety Forum prior to Sunday nights game against the Houston Texans. The session focused on the work the NFL and army are doing together to promote a positive culture change and reduce the stigma related to head injuries.
And all parties know its going to take some time to do that.
You talk about warrior mentality. We dont want to get rid of that. But we want to talk people through everything the league is doing, this type of forum, Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. Its going to take years to really get the culture change were looking for.
Wilson used the term dinged when talking about how he felt after some of those hits in his playing days. Players didnt know the affects of concussions as much then. Sometimes they didnt even know they had a concussion. Answer a couple of questions correctly and they were back in the game.
The lingering affects havent hit me yet, said Wilson. When asked if he was sure about that, he said, I remember how I got here and how to get home. My closest friend Dave Duerson, he couldnt remember how to get downtown, couldnt remember a lot of things. When I compare myself to that, Im doing OK now.
Duersons tragic story resonates with Wilson and Fencik, for certain. Duerson committed suicide in February of 2011. In a text to family, Duerson asked his brain be donated for research; three months after his death, neurologists at Boston University confirmed Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.
Still, the cautionary tales, even tragic ones like Duersons, dont always resonate immediately. Players may think itll never happen to them, that theyll bounce back quickly if they do suffer a concussion and they could lose their job if they do come out of the game.
You go down for a play, and a guy (behind you on the depth chart) is making 200,000 less, maybe they give him a shot. And you lose your job, Fencik said. Its very difficult for that player. Its a tremendous challenge because its your job. Its something theyve done their entire life.
Still, the message will continue. You cant eradicate concussions completely. You can take out illegal hits, sure, but head injuries are caused on the perfectly legal ones, too. The research is better now than it was in Wilson and Fenciks playing days, and improves every day.
Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, a consulting clinical neuropsychologist at NorthShore Medical Group, said education is key.
One of the biggest misconceptions?
That you need to be knocked out to have a concussion. You dont, she said. Only 9-10 percent (of head injuries) result in loss of consciousness. You still hear, He wasnt knocked out, so doesnt have concussion. Thats bothersome. Theyre brain injuries. Theyre not just seeing stars for a few seconds.
So the message will keep being delivered. The culture is going to take time to change. Perhaps a suffering player heeding that message wont save his career. But hed be saving something more precious.
We as a group have to let (players) know that its OK if somethings wrong with you: stand on the sideline and get yourself some help, Wilson said. We have to keep talking to one another.

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