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The Frightening World of Sports, Concussions, and Traumatic Brain Injury, Part I

Why I Quit Playing Football

Thirty years ago, I abruptly quit playing high school football while my team was preparing for a playoff game in which the winner would advance to the 1985 New Hampshire Division I-High School Football Championship. My teammates and coaches were upset at me and confused as to why I just stopped playing football. I had no idea how to tell them the truth and rumors ran rampant.

No, it wasn’t because I couldn’t get a ride to and from practices or games.

No, it wasn’t because I just woke up one morning with a plan to ruin all of my relationships and make myself an outcast.

No, it wasn’t that I wanted to devote all of my time to becoming an alcoholic and a drug addict.

No, it wasn’t because I wanted to end my athletic career on the lowest note possible after having devoted so much time and effort winning many ribbons, trophies, and championships.

I’d racked up 13 concussions from age four through 16 and got most of them while playing sports. Football and soccer were the major contributors. I went to the hospital after my first few concussions, but then I began hiding them so I could keep playing. I stopped playing soccer in middle school because of concussions. I should’ve stopped playing football for the same reason after winning the 1983 New Hampshire Pop Warner Championship Game, but I kept on playing in high school.

I didn’t know how to tell anyone I had a concussion because I was brainwashed into believing that concussions didn’t harm the brain and all I needed to do was suck them up like visible physical injuries. I was learning the hard way that wasn’t true because after every new concussion, my symptoms were worse and it took longer to recover. I was also learning that concussions had a negative impact on my athletic ability, academics, and relationships. I was losing the “real me” and I didn’t like who I was becoming. Neither did anyone else.

The truth was, I was hurt mentally and physically from a concussion I had gotten during a recent practice. I should’ve told my coaches, trainer, teammates, and mother about the concussion, but I kept it to myself like I had done so many times before. To make matters worse, just two days after receiving this concussion, I took to the field to play in the last game of the regular season. It turned out to be one of the worst decisions I’ve ever made in my lifetime!

As I lined up for the kickoff, I was in so much agony, all I could do was tell myself to suck it up and run as fast as I could in order to make the tackle. I was used to playing injured and thought I would always be tough enough to pay the price when the time came. No one should ever be so in the dark about concussions that they feel they can never give up or stop playing.

The football was kicked and I made a vicious hit on the receiver. As I stood back up I realized my living hell got worse! The bright stadium lights were so overwhelming that I couldn’t look at them. The cheers from the fans and music being played by the marching band in the stands behind me were so overwhelming that I couldn’t block them out. I had the most overwhelming sense of anxiety and depression and I couldn’t make it stop.

For the first time ever, I hid on the sidelines not wanting to go back into a game. I suffered alone while surrounded by hundreds of people. Some of them were my closest childhood friends who needed me beside them on the field. At halftime, I walked to the locker room having successfully kept myself out of the game. However, I was in so much physical and mental pain that I thought I was going to die! I sat on a bench in the locker room trying to keep it together. It got to the point where I was so afraid of having a meltdown in front of the team and coaches that I hid in a bathroom stall and prayed for the concussion symptoms to go away. They only got worse!

I managed to not play in the second half and for the first time ever, I got a ride home from my mother instead of riding the bus back to the school with my team. After suffering alone in the dark in my bedroom the entire weekend, just like I had done many times before, I made up my mind that I couldn’t continue playing football with a concussion. I just didn’t know how to tell anyone.

This article was published, in its entirety, by the Good Men Project. Reprinted with permission.

Photo credit: pixabay

Ted Stachulski

View posts by Ted Stachulski
Ted Stachulski is a former multi-sport athlete, Marine Corps veteran, traumatic brain injury survivor, creator of the Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor Guide, Veterans Outreach Specialist, and an advocate for brain injury survivors, their family members, and caregivers. In 2007, he received the State of Vermont Governor's Certificate of Appreciation/Traumatic Brain injury Survivor of the Year award for his outstanding commitment, perseverance, and advocacy within the brain injury community on a local and national level. Ted is a member of the Krempels Center, a nonprofit organization located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, dedicated to improving the lives of people living with brain injury from trauma, tumor or stroke.
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