Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

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Fencik, Wilson discuss head injuries at Health and Safety Forum

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.

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Rookie Deiondre' Hall flashed in the preseason a year ago, leading the Bears coaching staff and fans to believe they found something amidst their trio of 2016 fourth round draft picks. 

He’s hoping to do the same this August after overcoming one physical hurdle, while waiting to see if he can get past a legal hurdle he created for himself.

Let’s start on the field, where, just days after his first NFL interception in the fourth game last season, he sustained an ankle injury in practice, sidelining him for two months. Once his walking boot and scooter were finally put away, he was active for the final four games. But what progress he’d been making on the field was difficult to recapture.

“Just coming off the injury, there was a little rust here and there, but the training staff here’s great and I had to push through it,” Hall said at last week’s minicamp in Lake Forest after he was one of numerous Bears hit by the injury bug, but not one of the 19 who wound up on Injured Reserve. “(I was) getting comfortable with the defense and in myself playing with those guys out there, getting the opportunity in the red zone and making plays. But the injury kinda sucked because I haven’t really had an opportunity to play since Week 5, so I’m not necessarily starting fresh.”

As the offseason unfolded, Hall was informed the coaching staff was going to try him at safety, if not permanently, then as an option for the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Northern Iowa product. 

But Hall’s not totally foreign to the position. He was a free safety his first year in college, then transitioned to outside linebacker/nickel as a sophomore, moved to cornerback as a junior before breaking his hand his senior year, playing through it back where he started at safety. So the decision wasn’t a big deal, especially if it enhances his chances to get on the field. But his preference?

“Defense. Opportunity,” Hall responded. “You get in where you fit in and the more you can do, the better it is for the team. If opportunity presents itself at corner, then I’m at corner. But right now at safety, I’m making strides (there) and keep pushing for that.”

“We’re gonna float him back and forth,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last month, after the Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the off-season, while Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are expected to battle for slot duty and former first-rounder Kyle Fuller and veterans Johnthan Banks and B.W. Webb hope to impress. “He (Hall) had some experience there in college. When it comes down to picking your team and you’re taking nine or 10 DBs, if someone’s got versatility to play both of those spots, that helps, so we’re gonna see if he’s one of those guys.”

But before Hall gets back to work in Bourbonnais, he’ll find out if he has some other dues to pay. Hall was back at his alma mater’s Cedar Falls campus March 26th when he and a former UNI teammate were arrested outside a bar called Sharky’s. Police had responded to a call, and by the time all was said and done, Hall needed to be tased before being arrested on charges of public intoxication, interference (with an arrest), and disorderly conduct. 

The case was continued late last month and Hall’s jury trial is scheduled for July 11th. Pending the outcome, he could face disciplinary action from the team and the NFL. He’s told his side of the story to Bears management and while expressing remorse for putting himself in the situation, Hall says it wasn’t in character and feels confident in what the outcome will be.

“People make mistakes and the truth always comes out,” the 23-year-old said, adding the situation isn’t weighing on his mind or affected his preparation in off-season workouts. “You gotta let people make their own mistakes. I won’t shed light but the truth always comes out, and (I’ve learned) just don’t take anything for granted.”

“My main focus is football and keep pushing to make strides to become good, and great.”

Bears announce training camp schedule

Bears announce training camp schedule

The Bears released their official training camp schedule Thursday morning. After reporting to Olivet Nazarene on Wednesday, July 26, the first of ten practices open to the public will take place the following day. The Bears will be based out of Bourbonnais for the 16th straight season. Training camp will go through Sunday, Aug. 13 before the Bears break camp and finish the preseason in Lake Forest. 

All practices are tentatively scheduled to start at various times during the 11 a.m. hour with the exception of Saturday, Aug. 13, which starts at 12:05 p.m. Those times are subject to change based on weather, and a varying set of schedules that John Fox and his coaching staff have set up, as they adjust to player and training staff preferences in hopes of reducing injuries. 

Also, new this season, fans wanting to attend practices must order free tickets in advance through the Bears website. Fans will not be allowed in without a ticket, and the first 1,000 fans each day will be given various souvenirs. The practice campus will be open to the public with tickets from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Here is the full training camp schedule: