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The Nigerian Doctor Who Single-Handedly Tackled the Whole NFL, by Davin Michael Stedman

The news for American Football just keeps getting worse. The latest study points to repeated hits to the head, not concussions, and not even ‘stingers’ and ‘seeing stars’, as the main cause of CTE.

At first this was all just a wake up call for football players to realize that something they might experience multiple times a game is actually a concussion. Getting your bell rung wasn’t part of the game, it was a part of the process of forgetting your own daughter’s name.

Now we must face that every play is the problem, not just the illegal tackles we used to call a great hit that got you a slap on the ass.

But the truth is we’ve known of this repetitive impact problem for decades. When I was a kid Europeans discovered that heading soccer balls was shaving 10 to 15 IQ points off over time. I read it in the paper and never forgot it.

We always knew boxers got punch drunk. We saw them fall apart mentally after they retired. We said Ali had a hereditary disease. But we always knew. We knew Muhammad Ali suffered from Foreman-Frasier disease and that the fog began to collect in his mind in Zaire.

Yet it took a Nigerian doctor named Bennet Omalu with no connection to our Any Given Sunday Cult to force the NFL to address the obvious. Omalu was found armed with facts, research, and a rigorous scientific method. Now you know why Trump wants to keep Nigerians out of the USA. There are thousands of Bennet Omalus waiting to invade our country with potential breakthroughs and an ethical fortitude that will positively impact our lives.

David beat Goliath. Because Goliath already knew David’s little Nigerian slingshot was hurling back the nightmare the NFL was hiding from their own employees.

I remember playing 7th grade football and tasting a metallic substance in my mouth. It was blood. I didn’t like playing Football. It’s not that I was afraid of the extraordinary level of violence and danger that seemed out of out of bounds of the PC environment I scoffed at. That taste of blood from a hit in the head that I tasted in the locker room, told me that everyone of us was sustaining brain damage.

I am not a quitter so I finished the season. I only played football my senior year because I knew then I was going to be a writer and I even told people that year that I was there to accumulate the common experiences of an American boy. Thankfully I had this nagging flexor injury that genuinely kept me out of several games and practices.

I was a good athlete. I could always have been a starter, but my heart was not in it. I was just collecting experiences. One thought I had in the scrum of battle at practice was that as 7th graders, with our less developed bodies and awkwardness, our heads bobbling about at full speed; we were hitting our heads even harder.

I remember what to happened Chris ____ his Junior year at Jackson. He got blindsided by a Samoan from Lynnwood that might as well have been a 30 year old NFL veteran, and suddenly his minor mal seizures became major and more frequent. He shuddered on the field. In the age of YouTube it would have gone viral. In the 90s it just disappeared down the river of denial.

I was friends with him. He was never the same. It wasn’t just the anti-seizure medication. I couldn’t believe he was cleared to play before that hit. I couldn’t believe he played his senior year.

This is not about Snowflakes. It’s becoming common sense. I remember our head coach shedding a tear, talking about us ruining our minds on marijuana. I was thinking about how we might as well smoking meth in terms of the damage we were doing between our ears. The pads only made us hit each other harder. Boxing gloves don’t protect heads, they protect hands. Turns out football helmets have done neither, since they were straps of leather. No helmet really stops the damage from a roadside bomb or a blind side hit.

The whole team might as well have just got a brisk walk in and rolled some blunts dipped in embalming fluid rather than suit up and beat each other’s brains in so hard, we would feel it in our 50s.

I don’t know what America, or Texas is going to do. There’s always church on Sunday. There’s always fantasy baseball and spending even more quality time your kids before they swallow that Tide Fabric Softener pod.

The fact that football is still going to be played for the foreseeable future in public schools shows the power football has in this country, even in an educational environment that is increasingly stopping kids from doing anything dangerous whatsoever. Like making human contact. But on that field you beat each other like prisoners of war.

Besides the brain damage and nagging injuries that systematically has led to millions of addictions to pain killers then to heroin, Football has a lot to offer. Let’s ignore minefield of politics regarding exclusion of women.

Football is a good learning environment in which not only the financially elite or genetically superior athletes get to participate, like baseball or basketball. A prep football team has a place for almost any type of young man, as long as he is ready to throw his body into the car accident of every hike and full contact drill. I wonder what will happen to the giant oafs on the offensive line if the NFL and college football goes away. Will those 6’4, 305-pound bears no longer commodities, but rather only fat dudes with problems breathing at night.

What happens to football as the players get faster and stronger, and better paid, and the news gets worse and worse? I have theories. For one, baseball will benefit as better athletes and rich parents lean towards the diamond. The best Dominican athletes play baseball. The best Americans rarely do.

It’s telling that when a game involving a rock buzzing by your ear at 90 mph– that could shatter a pitcher’s skull coming back at 140 mph– seems like the safe bet. Football has a problem.

This week when a football player took his life in the saddest and most violent manner, I wondered if the hit I saw him take at the goal line– when he chose bravely to lean in head first instead of sliding– didn’t affect his final decision. After the play the kid fell apart. Coach kept him in as he threw interception after interception like it was a teaching moment, or a moment of truth. I immediately wrote that this kid a had a concussion. The truth is that his life had changed.

I wondered then if it was this freshman’s 4th or 40th concussion. I wondered after I heard the horrible news if he had been told the news that another concussion could cost him his life. With each concussion, the next one comes easier and speeds up an inevitable timeline towards dementia. The concussed get sloppy drunk even easier. The mind grows darker. The brain is dying. The body is still strong and everything seems fine.

I thought I was alone or out of bounds but after I texted my girlfriend the sad news about this kid who took his own life, she immediately responded, “it’s the head injuries man.”

Now we know concussions aren’t even the gravest threat. It’s just the game.

– Musician and writer Davin Michael Stedman has many musical ventures and is one of the driving forces behind the Staxx Brothers. He will be partying in Kingston, Jamaica momentarily.

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