Repercussions of concussions | Former Arkansas Razorback, NFL player is taking CTE head on
Keli Scott McGregor
Just in the last decade, the link between playing football and long-term brain trauma has been acknowledged. For THV11’s Taylor McGregor, it began in 2010. Her dad, Keli McGregor, who had played in the NFL suddenly died and her family decided to donate his brain to CTE research. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a disease that's linked to repetitive brain trauma. It came back that he had been living with the disease, and since then it has been a mission of Taylor's to raise awareness of CTE.
But this story is about one Arkansan who proves why it's so important that we talk about this disease.
"When I'm angry, music allows me to pour all that negative energy into my horn," said Isaac Davis.
For the former Razorback and NFL player music has always been a part of who he is. "If I'm not playing I'm listening to it." But these days, why he delves into beats is much different than his early days.
"I fight depression. I'm still dealing with anxiety. Anger. Not anger issues, but quick temper. Easily agitated."
He’s agitated, but no longer confused about why he is agitated. Davis now knows that he lives with the symptoms of a degenerative brain disorder known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. And the tunes to him are a way to cope with the damage done to his head in the game of football. This is a thing that people do not see.
"They do not see the pain, the tears, the everything. The only thing they want to see is that big hit or that magnificent throw and spectacular catch. However, after that final whistle is blown or the clock hits zero for that last time, and what happens to that gladiator?" explained Davis.
How Davis got here
Following a career at Malvern High School and the University of Arkansas, Davis spent 7 years playing professionally, reaching a career high of AFC champs in 1994.
Once his time on the gridiron concluded he turned to teaching. He was a teacher and coach for 16 years until his normal life was interrupted.
"Around 2015 I started experiencing quick temperedness. I started experiencing more depression. Crying a lot more than normal and I'm like 'why am I crying so much?' I mean I see a diaper commercial on TV and I just started crying. I'm like what's going on with me, you know? For the first time in my life I got in trouble with the law at 44 years old," he said. "So, as I was going down I had to explain my side of the story and that opened up the door to a lot of other things."
One of the things that opened was the chance for Davis to attend an NFL sponsored program in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It helps former athletes and military veterans learn about the state of their brain.
"Everything that we discussed was brain related. And I was just like 'Wow.' I had so many epiphanies if you will and it was like one thing after another and I was like dang this is why I was doing that," he shared. “Being able to share my story. To sit down with people who have working knowledge brain diseases. Just being able to sit down with other brothers that's going through the same thing that I'm going through. Because it's never going to go away. You're just going to learn to deal with it and cope with it."
Doctor Chris Nowinski is one of those who have made it their life's mission to help people like Davis. He's the co-founder and CEO of Concussion Legacy, author of the book ‘Head Games, Football's Concussion Crisis.’
“Somebody who's worried about suffering from CTE, the message to them is go find a doctor who understands degenerative brain disease like Alzheimer’s and let them treat you. They might have to treat your memory. They can treat your depression. They can treat your anxiety. You can live a better life with CTE," said Nowinski.
But what about those who have yet to play the game? How do you balance playing football and being aware of its side effects? Because at the end of the day, hits to the head are never going to leave the game.
"The most important thing to make football better, the number one thing on the list is to get rid of youth tackle football. So, we just launched our flag football under 14 campaign to educate parents that if you love football and want your kid to play, there is no justification for putting a child at 8 years old with a developing brain on the field where they can get hit in the head 500 times. You're going to increase the risk of CTE and you're not really teaching them football," added Nowinski.
Davis and Nowinski are finding a balance for loving the game of football while still educating people on its inherent risks. They both agree children shouldn't participate in peewee tackle football leagues.
Taking CTE head on
"Those leagues are mostly parents that are living vicariously through their children. And they're putting their children at risk because I don't care if it's peewee or little tyke league, a hit is a hit,” said Davis.
“I'm retired now and I'm sharing my story because it needs to be it needs to be told. People need to have a clear understanding of what's going on and the repercussions of concussions.”
THV11 is going to continue to follow the concussion crisis and raise awareness for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
If you or a loved one has a story they'd like to tell us, share them with us.
You can send them to email@example.com or find Taylor McGregor on social media.
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