At Head Injury Association Forum, Special Guest Speaker Harry Carson reveals he suffered suicidal tendencies from post concussion syndrome
By Ann Liguori
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NFL Hall of Famer and former NY Giants Linebacker Harry Carson was the special guest speaker at Thursday’s annual Head Injury Association forum on Long Island and for good reason. Carson shared more personal revelations about his struggles with post concussion syndrome, revealing that at one time he was so depressed that he considered suicide. “The depression got so bad that when I would drive over the Tappan Zee Bridge, I would think ‘let me just drive off the bridge!”
Even with the NFL labor negotiation deadline looming, Joe Browne, Senior Advisor to the Commissioner of the NFL took time out to participate in the program before heading to Washington D.C. The program deals with an issue that has dominated the headlines the last several years — head injuries in sports, and particularly, in football. The Head Injury Association of Long Island, led by CEO Liz Giordano, organizes this forum each year, open to the public, featuring sports personalities who share their first-person stories about head injuries. Dr. Brian Lebowitz, PhD, Stony Brook University and Dr. Jennifer Sernel, MD, St. Charles Hospital, also joined the panel. I sit on the panel each year and this year, served as Master of Ceremonies with Dr. Max Gomez, Medical Correspondent for WCBS-NY.
Former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney, former NY Yankees Tommy John, former NY Jets Rich Caster and John Nitti and former Pirates Fred Cambria all shared riveting stories of how they were personally affected by concussions either in their sport or in Fred Cambria’s case, by a golf ball that struck him in the head and nearly killed him.
Carson also admitted that he thought as if he was a “guinea pig” with the issue of head injuries and post concussion syndrome.
Carson’s upcoming book, ‘Captain for Life,’ scheduled to come out in August, will contain many personal stories of his life and football career but the book will focus on his personal revelations of the injuries sustained playing the game and his experiences living with the lingering after-effects.
On Harry Carson’s web site, www.harrycarson.com, Carson states: “Traumatic Brain Injuries or Concussions in contact sports especially football has recently become a “hot button” topic in the media but it is a subject I’ve spoken about long before there was even a word spoken on the subject by the media or the NFL. ‘Captain for Life’ is not your typical, football-related, feel good book. It is my honest assessment of the hazards of the sport and business of football and is a voice for many football players on all levels who no longer have a voice to be heard.’’
At Thursday’s Head Injuries Association program on Long Island, Carson said: “Football players are big, strong specimens. We are trained to be in tune with our bodies. No one knows you’ve been damaged neurologically…No one tells you about the neurological risks when you play the game. That is why I wrote the book. Every parent should be fully informed that his or her child could sustain neurological damage.”
Carson said it wasn’t until years after he retired from his professional football career, that he realized he suffered from post concussion syndrome. “In 1982-83, I started feeling not quite like myself. My head was in the clouds. I could not think clearly. I lost my ability to communicate effectively. I knew something was going on…In 1988, I went into broadcasting and the transition was tough. I would lose my train of thought while being ‘live’ on the air.”
“As a football player, you never share your weakness with other players. I kept everything to myself.”
“In 1990, I went to my doctor for an annual physical. He said I checked out okay but before I left, the doctor asked me if there was anything else wrong. That’s when I told him that I sometimes had blurry vision, occasional headaches, could not articulate, could not make decisions and I had bouts of depression.”
Carson underwent testing and was diagnosed with post concussion syndrome which is a disorder caused by a series of multiple concussions. Symptoms can include loss of short-term memory, depression, anxiety, sensitivity to light, noise, dizziness and in some cases, suicidal tendencies.
Carson spends a lot of time educating others about the long-term effects of concussions. He is at ease talking about the subject and sharing his knowledge and recommendations to other players suffering with the same symptoms and issues. “And speaking out has helped other players share their own stories with me,” he adds. “I am hearing so many stories from the wives. They are recognizing that their husbands are having neurological problems, some who now suffer dementia, depression, have problems focusing, long after they’ve left the game… Troy Aikman recently said on television that with all the information now out about concussions, he doesn’t know if he wants his 10-year-old to play football.”
It was on my ‘Sports Innerview’ radio program last year, when Carson admitted that had he known that he would suffer long term effects from all the concussions he had throughout his football career, he would never have played football. “Playing football was not my first goal. I studied to be an educator,” Carson said at Thursday’s Head Injury Association program.
Liz Giordano, CEO of the Head Injury Association says, “Once the diagnosis is post concussion syndrome, there is no treatment for it. There is not much you can do except learn to manage your life differently. You avoid the triggers. For example, you avoid flashing lights. You avoid being around loud noises which are known to bring on headaches. Those who suffer with depression take anti-depression medication.”
Perhaps Carson summed it up best when he said, “I saw this 15-20 years ago. I’ve lived it. It is like a train coming down the track and now the train has pulled into the station.”
And now, the NFL has to deal with it too.
Be sure to add to your own library, Ann’s interviews with some of your favorite sports personalities, now available on DVD. Visit www.annliguori.com.