On New Year’s day, Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer went down with a head injury, again. It was his fourth concussion this season.
The tackle that sent him out did not seem like a devastating blow. One announcer called it “fairly routine.” The issue wasn’t the hit, it was the state of his brain.
Less than a month prior, he was concussed in the Big 12 Championship game against Oklahoma. After the concussive blow, Brewer stayed in the game for a few plays (people were not happy to see it). For the next week, Brewer reports that his post-concussion symptoms kept him mostly in a dark room.
Brewer Needs to Quit Football
The more head impacts an athlete receives, the more likely they are to be concussed. Obvious enough.
But it appears the relationship is more than just playing the odds. A recent study led by Brian D. Stemper of Marquette University found that “repetitive head impacts likely decrease biomechanical tolerance for concussion” – the implication of this is significant, since this ultimately means that athletes are “more susceptible to injury from lower magnitude impacts.”
Many coaches have seen injuries occur on plays that do not seem terribly vicious. Depending on the volume of exposure preceding an impact, the intensity of that impact might play less of a role than we initially thought. The Stemper study found that 56% (n=28/50) of concussed athletes were injured on impacts with a probability risk (a calculation which includes intensity of impact) of less than 1%.
In previous articles, we have referred to the “running back” metaphor:
- The more opportunities a running back has to carry the ball, the greater the odds that he will eventually score a touchdown. (increase due to overall opportunity)
- The more opportunities a running back has to carry the ball, the closer to the goal line he will be; accumulation of yards in the direction of the goal line increases the likelihood of scoring a touchdown. (increase due to accumulation effect)
As a running back racks up yards during a drive, steadily approaching the goal line, he might put himself in a situation where a short, 2-yard run might get him into the endzone.
If we were to measure total head impacts instead of yards, we might find that a low-magnitude, routine collision is enough to concuss an athlete. Why? Because of accumulation, or total Volume, of exposure.
It seems clear that Charlie Brewer has had one too many concussions.
His biomechanical tolerance for concussion is too low to come back for another season of Big 12 play, much less consider a career in the NFL.
His best bet is to hang up his cleats. He should transfer his dedication and work ethic to another area of life. He should double-down on academics, pursue a high level internship, and focus on life after football… because that time is now.
Brewer Needs Support
He will need support. The transition from competitive athlete to post-football professional is a difficult one. Many struggle with post-career depression and other mental health complications. Especially football players.
This is important to note before the thoughts of CTE and other neurodegenerative diseases creep into Brewer’s mind. He will be dealing with enough mental concerns as his career comes to an end – the suggestion of anything further might do more harm than good.
Consider the case of Todd Ewen, the retired hockey player who, after many years in the NHL, died by suicide. He was dealing with depressive symptoms, including impulse control, irritability, apathy, and the whirlwind of concerns associated with the newly omnipresent hysteria surrounding concussions.
Ewen had suffered many concussions over the course of his career and, considering his symptoms, assumed there was no coming back from his depressed state. Upon autopsy, it was confirmed that Ewen did not have CTE. He suffered from depression, and he needed help. The prevailing narrative of concussions causing an imminent downward spiral for former athletes took over and, instead of looking for help, he took his own life.
So instead of filling Brewer’s head with hopeless thoughts, people in Brewer’s life should ask to hear his thoughts. They should be willing to discuss his concerns as he begins the difficult transition from All-Big 12 Quarterback to Regular Joe.
It’s okay. It happens.
Mental illness needs to be talked about. The stigma needs to be removed, especially in athletics.
We too often talk about the modern gladiator being taken out by brain damage because it is more comfortable than addressing the fact that big, strong athletes can also be fragile, emotional, complicated young men.
Those are not qualities we like to talk about in locker rooms, or when we talk about locker rooms, for that matter.
Embrace the Conversation
Although playing football is in the rearview, the longest and best parts of Charlie Brewer’s life are ahead of him.
He will need support from family, friends, coaches, and players. Head Coach Matt Rhule should offer him a job as a G.A. or a staff assistant. He should offer him an open door if he ever needs to talk. A position under center should be off the table.
His teammates should work to understand his situation. They should support his difficult but intelligent decision.
We should all do this. NCAA, NFL, and all members of the football world, let’s pull the curtain back. Let’s talk about brain injury with as much accuracy as we can muster. Let’s talk about mental illness with all the courage that it takes to do so.
Remove the stigmas, take care not to oversimplify, and let’s do our best to create a safe, healthy future for our athletes.