by Garret Kramer
Unknowingly, I sent Dave Duerson an email on the day he took his own life. My friend and Dave’s teammate on the 1985 Chicago Bears, Tyrone Keys, had just connected us. Tyrone sensed something was not right with his buddy.
As many of you now know, Dave donated his brain to concussion research with the hope that some good could spawn from his suffering. A courageous gesture. In this article, however, I want to talk about a totally overlooked topic in today’s raging debate about concussions in contact sports—the human mind.
In dealing with post-concussion syndrome, we must learn to recognize the difference between the brain and the mind.
This might surprise you, but when I use the word mind, I am not talking about the brain. The brain is biological; the mind is spiritual. The brain is like a computer; the mind is the energy that powers the computer. The brain is synonymous with the intellect; the mind, intuition. Simply put, the mind cannot be touched by any external factor, not even a concussion. Yet too many ex-athletes are like Dave; imprisoned in the ravages of post-concussive confusion. They fail to understand the above principle—and so, suffer needlessly.
To be clear, I am not discounting the relevance of the examination of brain injuries and their long-lasting effects. I am simply saying that we should not neglect the principle of mind as we do so. For example, consider a player who is experiencing post-concussion syndrome—he has frequent headaches, some memory loss, and mood swings. Perhaps, this player also has wayward thoughts and tells himself, “I’m better off gone.” If the player doesn’t understand how this reality is truly formed—when his mood has swung in a dysfunctional direction, he will not see life clearly—he will be prone to buying into whatever his brain conjures up at that particular moment. On the other hand, if the player realizes that even during the lows, his mind and spirit remain untouched, then (no matter how many hits he took during his career) faith will not escape him. Remember, the mind is the source of the computer’s (the brain’s) power. When a computer malfunctions, the power source remains intact.
Hits to the head during an athlete’s playing career do not, on their own, portend a bleak future.
Of equal concern is the innocent tendency of concussion programs and counseling to spell doom for players who have suffered head injuries. Far too many athletes have adopted the notion that if they have symptoms of post-concussion syndrome, or if they have had several concussions during their career, their future will be unpromising. This is simply not the case. Just this morning, I listened to a radio interview (with Tyrone) conducted by Dave Duerson exactly one month ago. Dave was astute, understanding, and extremely articulate. Even if his brain functioning was diminished, at that moment his inner wisdom and natural resiliency were guiding him along assuredly. Again, a concussion can only affect one’s biology; it cannot affect one’s spirit, heart, or faith. I believe that, as science and the pro leagues continue to study the effects of head injuries, it is imperative that this message be instilled as well.
Dave Duerson was a brilliant football player, a once-successful businessman, and, in offering his brain to research, a courageous person who has not died in vein. When he thought he had run out of hope last Thursday, he needed to be pointed inward—to the principle of mind.
I am deeply sorry that I was a day too late to do so.