Nick Mercer: Understanding Runs Both Ways

First off, Movember 2012 is over and the moustache is gone. Thank you to everyone who donated, whether it was to me or not, the money goes to the same very worthwhile cause.

Now, onto the post…

Yesterday, I tweeted  a story from the New York Times, “Report Urges ‘Cultural Shift’ as Hockey Coaches Defy Concussion Specialists”. In the study, in the Journal of Neurosurgery, Dr. Paul Echlin writes, “Concussion is a significant public health issue that requires a generational shift. As with smoking or seat belts, it doesn’t just happen overnight — it takes a massive effort and collective movement.” I couldn’t agree more! Which leads me to this post.

I’ve previously written about this idea and I’m happy to see that I’m not alone. For this ‘generational shift’ and ‘massive effort and collective movement” to occur, we need to stop dividing ourselves. Right now, there seem to be two camps. Those who’ve had a brain injury or have a close relationship with someone who has, and those who play contact sports and relish the ‘contact’ aspect. The latter is the group that we’re trying to educate about concussions and the former is the group that knows about it all too well.

There has been a blatant ‘make them understand’ movement and, not surprisingly, it hasn’t worked overnight, or it’s been begrudgingly accepted. At times, the higher levels of an organization like the NHL or NFL  have fully endorsed changes to contact rules and have subsequently, unilaterally imposed them on the players and officials. In the case of the NFL,Commissioner Roger Goodell, counter-productively and idiotically, pushed for a longer season, so players could collide more and have more opportunity to be concussed. But I digress…

It feels like there is a discernible “you’re either with us or against us” attitude. Not to get too political here, but that doesn’t work if you want people to come around to the same point of view. It’s not good enough to simply dismiss the thoughts and attitudes of people who don’t appreciate the seriousness or likelihood of a concussion. It’s not good enough to say, “I understand them, they just don’t care” or “I can’t talk to thosepeople. They don’t get it!” It’s not even good enough to understand why they don’t see the issue like you. Understanding the ‘why’ is important if the goal is educating future generations, down the road, but we want to educate the current generation as well.

We need to understand their position. Meaning, we have to appreciate their point of view. They have never been brain injured, don’t think it’ll happen to them, or are willing to take the risk that it could. When someone does or says something that is ignorant of brain injury or the likelihood that it will happen, immediately getting your back up, being offended, or responding with, “What are you? An idiot?”, isn’t going to help the situation. Don’t be selfish and lash out because it makes you feel better. Right there, you’ll be giving up on spreading awareness if you assume that someone is ignorant or doesn’t want to learn. Shaming somebody into listening isn’t a good long-term strategy.

Undoubtedly, there is anger over the ignorance of brain injury, but there definitely doesn’t have to be, nor should there be. There are people, like Roger Goodell, who pay lip service to the brain injury situation in sports. There are players who hit other players hard and think that the hitting is the best part of their sport. Before we get irate and label the person a sociopath out to ruin other people’s enjoyment of the game, we need to understand, and help them understand, what they did and why it was injurious. The likelihood of a brain injury occurring in a contact sport is higher than elsewhere, so it is important that players, coaches – for youth sports, parents – and anybody involved with the sport to learn about it. However, the proper environment and atmosphere is essential. Instead of preaching that what they’ve been doing is wrong or dangerous, how about teaching a new way to play the sport aggressively. Advocating against a style of play, or against an attitude, doesn’t foster learning, it fosters resentment.

I just realized that, though I feel strongly about what I wrote, I did exactly the opposite. I spent the entire post preaching against ‘preaching against’. I’m seeing irony in irony. It’s probably time to stop writing for the day.

20 thoughts on “Nick Mercer: Understanding Runs Both Ways

  1. Educator Mom December 12, 2012 / 09:12

    While I understand what your are saying and why you are saying it, my problem is that in the area of student athletes and concussions, every moment we waste, every delay, puts another student’s future at risk. Our kids are suffering the consequences, sometimes lifelong, of the adults in their lives waiting for this generational shift to occur. My son’s doctor often reminds him that he is a pioneer as he fights to recover, fights to overcome stereotypes, and fights for the right to an equal education in spite of this new disability he has been granted due to the adults in his life that haven’t quite gotten up to speed in the area of brain injury and concussions. But frankly our children should not pay the price for the choice of these adults to remain ignorant.

    • A Concerned Mom December 12, 2012 / 11:19

      Children and teenagers are being put into potentially dangerous, life altering situations by adults who often lack concussion education and/or who elect to disregard such education. We are, however, being asked to be patient, because many adults seem to value the so called integrity of games more than the welfare of minors.

      I’m with you on this one Educator Mom, now that we know better, we need to take appropriate actions today — our children should not pay the price for school systems and youth leagues which fail to implement appropriate concussion safeguards and policies (often while wrapping themselves in the comfort of school and/or volunteer immunity).

  2. kappy December 12, 2012 / 10:24

    I agree , but it is not only ‘children’ who pay (one can still grow up with a brain injury). As for ignorant adults……… I can only say that education will NOT displace stupidity !

  3. Jake Benford December 12, 2012 / 11:40

    Educator Mom- I agree with what you are saying, but I do not think the Nick is advocating that we sit back and wait for things to change. If we are seen as preaching “the truth” and trying to force feed the facts to everyone we will continue to have a divide between those that understand and those that do not. An adversarial approach rarely works with anything in life and it usually makes people more entrenched. If we try to develop partnerships, understand that opinions and viewpoints do not change overnight, and try to teach what should be done rather than preach what should not be done, we will actually make more strides in right direction and at a quicker pace.

    • Educator Mom December 12, 2012 / 12:03

      I worked for the first year and a half after my son’s injury to build bridges, educate, be a resource and provide resources. All of that was rejected and ignored. The adults in his life have wasted away more than half of his high school career because they don’t want to learn. And his injury occurred because the adults in charge did not want to learn either and follow the guidelines that were put out by our state. I feel the burden of not only him but the student athletes I know that are everyday walking the same journey as him. I see some of them in my own classroom. As he says, “I haven’t already made my millions. I can’t take a leave of absence from college or a job. I only experience high school once in my life.” He doesn’t have time for someone to decide they are interested in building a partnership. The adults need to grow up, open their minds to the truth of the matter, and do what’s right for kids! When a student in our state broke his neck in hockey from an inappropriate hit, people didn’t wait around, develop partnerships, and build bridges. The rules and penalties were changed within a few days. Why? Because they could see the student in a wheel chair. Why should we do any less for these brain injured student athletes or any brain injured student?

    • A Concerned Mom December 12, 2012 / 12:25

      Personally, don’t think we have time to convince certain people – old time coaches etc. who are sure they know better – or to wait for that generation to retire. We don’t need to brow beat people either, we just need to change the laws/regs/rules/polices and enforce those changes. We (as a society) need to say that programs either have to meet minimum standards or they need to be shut down. We can maintain immunity for volunteers, but the trade-off should be reduced contact at the youth level and/or mandatory ATC coverage or some combination thereof.

      Just read an eye-opening journalism project by Kent State University on High School concussion policies earlier today, which illustrated how far we still need to go.

    • Matt Chaney December 13, 2012 / 07:30

      In American football, Dr. Benford, so-called partnerships, committees or whatever else supposedly charged with preventing health risks have been a farce for a century. A problem is that no legitimately independent oversight is ever established because funding and mission are controlled largely by Lord Football itself. And what you might view as ‘adversarial approach,’ well, I view, at this point, decades into this mess of blood football, as mere realistic assessment or critique. Educator Mom is absolutely correct in her assessment as it would apply to tackle football in America 2012: For every year we continue to screw around with brain-fart ideas of football-chosen ‘experts’ and their coalitions, to allegedly prevent or ‘eliminate’ anything from terrible injuries to drug abuse, THOUSANDS of kids are unnecessarily harmed. It’s high time that STOPS AND NOW, especially in our public sector–if you believe that’s ‘what should be done,’ great; otherwise, your point has been long heard and proven useless.

      • Joana Valek December 13, 2012 / 10:13

        It is not hard ! As you say THOUSANDS of kid’s lives are at stake.
        And Americans are very good to hear “there are several kids just in your village/town etc. who may be effected..” and “It could be YOUR child next or a nephew..”.

        It is much easier to be heard when one can preach FOR instead of against…Nick mentions that he spent years preaching against.
        Education happens quickly when one looks at photos of athletes in wheel chaird – from other towns. Recruiting some budding filmakers to make short clip video about these events is the first step – the whole nation is GLUED to the Tube …put the videos on UTube as it would most likely not be played on mainstream media.

    • Nick Mercer December 24, 2012 / 10:38

      Thank you Jake! That is exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you everyone for commenting with such passion!
      I hope my post doesn’t come across a strategy of wait-and-see or even indifference. By no means am I advocating doing nothing – I like to think that I’ve helped advocate for greater awareness since my brain injury. Although my post may not have been interpreted exactly as I intended, I’m very happy that it has sparked this amount of discussion! That’s the true intent! While it “shouldn’t” be such a hard struggle for greater understanding, it often is. As Jake mentioned, an adversarial approach may be self-defeating for a larger societal change. It may be hard to have patience when so much is misunderstood and there is so little awareness, but I think it’s what’s required.
      Thanks again Jake!

      • Matt Chaney December 24, 2012 / 11:06

        I can agree, Nick, on the value of passionate discussion, but your notion of rather passively entreating savvy football people to change the game through ‘greater awareness’ is naive. Football officials in particular know exactly how deadly their sport and its surroundings are for young males who play, long have, dating to ‘Father of American Football’ and pioneer propagandist Walter Camp at Old Yale, 1880s-1890s. The Camp camp at Yale, unofficial football headquarters then, preached about resolving brutality through stationing ‘best trainers and doctors’ at ready, establishing new safety ‘rules,’ hiring top ‘experts,’ teaching players ‘proper technique’ and to ‘follow rules of the experts,’ and more fluff. Sound familiar? There’s much more of the same, too, the talking points of football apology, resonating powerfully and dangerously yet, that are outlined by close Camp associate Eugene L. Richards in 1894, his BS treatise published by Popular Mechanics. I’ll soon add link here of my pending blog post critiquing football’s timeless, rhetorical spin that leads America into useless talk at every game crisis period, 1900, 1920s, 1960s, 2000s–just like we largely do now. Look, so far this ‘culture change’ is about protecting football, not players of any age. The dangers, horrible outcomes are clear and predictable EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Any ‘misunderstanding’ or mystery at this point concerns how to make football ‘safer,’ and I wonder why. Let’s count on flapping arms and flying to Mars first. Pardon if my destructive, counter-productive attitude spoils anyone’s brain-fart party.

  4. Matt Chaney December 13, 2012 / 12:15

    Rectifying football’s immense health risks for kids and adults isn’t simply a matter of communication mode, Joanna, because America has in fact been told and shown, repeatedly since the 1970s–in multi-media forms, includlng vivid TV or HD, whatever–and nothing has changed fundamentally for the better. And, no, I’ve seen multiple football calamities in my very own towns and football programs, prep and collegiate in Missouri, including DEATHS OF PLAYERS at each place. Nothing’s ever changed to prevent re-occurrence, not ‘expert’ ideas, panel discussion and proclamations, nor intense media coverage. So, if any of you are discussing how to protect kids from football’s violence head to toe, it’s lethal conditions of systems, and it’s terrible off-field problems like tissue-building drugs, then do the obvious: STOP THE STUPID GAME, by demanding, pleading, screaming. Otherwise, you’re just caught in Lord Football’s time-honored spin mode, or ineffective rhetoric, like expousing ‘preaching FOR instead of against,’ whatever you mean there… You’re just blathering, which I’m definitely against. Meanwhile, you want an effective video of the carnage, and human waste, suffering, here is one of late that aired on ESPN2 with virtually no fanfare:

  5. Educator Mom December 13, 2012 / 13:06

    As a neuropsychologist I heard speak recently said, “there is no celebrity to take up our cause.” When Christopher Reeves was paralyzed, he became an advocate and spokesman for spinal cord research. When Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he took up that cause. The list goes on and on. And in spite of the many famous athletes and even celebrities who have faced life altering brain injuries, none of them are willing to stand up and say I have a brain injury and we need to educate ourselves and commit to research that can make a difference in the lives of those suffering with this same injury. Until that happens, I don’t see much help in the way of budding filmakers and definitely not the mainstream media. Frankly, it is an invisible injury that people don’t want to see.

  6. Glenn Beckmann December 25, 2012 / 17:37

    Yes, of course, Nick, you’re going to be assailed. Lest you think that this blog might be a respite, you will be set upon by the blog bullies here. You and they are on the same side, of course, but you are obviously not as concerned as they are – since their willingness to say and do outrageous things is greater than yours, all for the sake of shouting down anyone who doesn’t believe as deeply as they do in the depth of their rightness. There are no middle grounds here, Nick. If you don’t agree with them 100% then you are against them. It is an area in which you have found yourself many times, I’m sure. In this arena, if you don’t believe that football coaches, equipment makers, suboptimal doctors and everyone else who doesn’t see football as the 21st century version of the Lions vs the Christians, then you are on the wrong side. If you hold out hope that there is progress being made and more still to be made, by passionate and reasonable discussion, then you are the fool here. And I’m damn glad to welcome another one to the debate.

    • Matt Chaney December 25, 2012 / 20:54

      When the helmet seller resorts again to moralizing against us ‘blog bullies,’ you know the truth hits him and his types right between the eyes. Deal with my argument, Mr. Beckmann, my evidence, or go home with your bullet-head helmets that outfit some 4 million kids to ram head-on as gladiators, including two generations of my family since the 1970s. And you’re not on Nick Mercer’s side, not even close, although you’d love everyone here to buy such BS. As for my being a jerk, you got that right, but that’s all. I’m always humored when people like you bite on that, my attitude, or, of course, spew smoke like “proper” head-on colliding that cannot involve even the facemask at initial contact! Sure, that works, in fantasy. Let’s review your company’s line of legalize, disclaiming liability and projecting it onto players, parents and coaches, municipalities and schools… You know damn well, sir, that no one has any hope of teaching and instilling, to young players, this type of technique your company blathers about, along with Goodell and cronies:

      “WARNING: Keep your head up. Do not butt, ram, spear, or strike an opponent with any part of this helmet or face guard. This is a violation of football rules and may cause you to suffer severe brain or neck injury, including paralysis or death and possible injury to your opponent. Contact in football may result in Concussion/Brain injury which no helmet can prevent. Symptoms include: loss of consciousness or memory, dizziness, headache, nausea, or confusion. If you have symptoms, immediately stop and report them to your coach, trainer, and parents. Do not return to a game or contact until all symptoms are gone and you receive medical clearance. Ignoring this warning may lead to another and more serious or fatal brain injury. NO HELMET SYSTEM CAN PROTECT YOU FROM SERIOUS BRAIN AND/OR NECK INJURIES INCLUDING PARALYSIS OR DEATH. TO AVOID THESE RISKS, DO NOT ENGAGE IN THE SPORT OF FOOTBALL.”

      Yeah, kids, don’t play football but if you want to, helmet makers will sell you their bullets. Just remember that you, your parents, coaches and trainers are wholly responsible, especially in event of catastrophic injury.

      Peace, folks, and my apologizes for hurting anyone’s feelings who matters, and especially Nick Mercer (although I don’t think he’s the sensitive one here).

      • Glenn Beckmann December 26, 2012 / 20:06

        That’s cute Matt. You certainly owned that “blog bully” title pretty quickly. As they say, if the shoe is custom made for your foot….

        Can you tell me where you got your white horse? It must be comforting to know that you are the only one concerned with the welfare of our kids and all those who disagree are eeeeeevil.

        As far as your argument goes, I could open a few holes in it (football pun intended) but I try not to waste the finite number of breaths i have in this world by trying to engage irrational people in a futile attempt at rational conversation.

        I’m simply trying to let folks like Nick know that, in this world, they need to keep one eye on the weeds at all times. As you never knows what’s lying in them. And that they’re not discriminating in who they strike at.

  7. Matt Chaney December 26, 2012 / 22:12

    Ha. You don’t read near enough about me, Mr. Beckmann, which is why you’re a PR specialist. We can always trust you to say the good word, talk, for football, endorsing or kissing everyone who makes money there like you, and of course you care about kids, and progress, so finally I got a saying: Watch out for who licks your butt, cause he just as fast will eat you. Ha, I’m a snake, you’re much less, dude; we’re company for each other, eh? Yeah, Nick, everyone, watch out for me, but trust the helmet seller, PR specialist, always his type in this blood sport–which, incidentally, is my point: Football is what it is. You, Mr. Beckmannn, your kind, ride the white horse hear, telling us you can save kids. I say nothing of the sort. You gotta prove it to me, pal, us, and you can’t do it, and you people aren’t getting off the hook this time. See you at the crossroads coming up fast, Mr. Beckman, for Football America and those like you. [How’s that for your little insult game.]

    • Matt Chaney December 26, 2012 / 22:13

      Oh, forgot to add, what’s your argument? I think I could puff your points out real quick, like smoke rings, but, please, enlighten us, Mr. Beckmann.

    • Glenn Beckmann December 27, 2012 / 11:53

      If you need me to be your white whale, Matt, than I’m happy to serve that role. Rage on Ahab, rage on. I try not to reply to your screeds but when you slap people who are genuinely reaching out to try further the discussion/understanding – simply because they aren’t as “right” as you or your posse – I’ll probably ante up my two cents. As for me reading more about you, no thanks. You have earned the respect of people I respect, to your credit, but I know you as much as I’d like. Zealots and extremists have been making noise over various causes for millennia. And remain marginalized in history.

      • Matt Chaney December 27, 2012 / 13:41

        Yeah, yeah, you’re a hero of the oppressed here, I know. You’re a champion of Safe Football in bullet-head helmets for kids. I’ll read about your types in history, I know (I am already, in fact, yaks like you for more than a century, case you don’t get that.) Again, call me a jerk, fair criticism, but your answer here is exactly what I expected, nothing of substance in response to my arguments–which go on and on, for shooting fish in a barrel like your replies. And you know that, slithering along as you do in PR for blood sport and its pricey accessories, which is why you don’t debate anything, just talk, badger with punk attitude. But roll on, Hero. Keep wishing my information is mere screed, too. [Yeah, personal ranting, that’s all I’ve ever thrown your rhetoric; you’re so weak.]

  8. Educator Mom December 28, 2012 / 09:56

    “Blog bullies”… an interesting thought. My son has been bullied because he is not cleared after two years to participate in the sport he loves due to his concussion (and his former team mates don’t get it). He is marginalized by a school that thinks it is too expensive to try and adequately educate the student athletes whose brains they put at risk in the arena of sports. As my son inches closer and closer to graduation, he is beginning to realize that his hopes and dreams for his life are shattered and are going to have to change. He can’t handle a full time load and his transcripts have been destroyed. His life has been completely changed because of uneducated coaches and uneducated sports programs. His headaches, memory deficiencies, and constant fatigue are not exactly the markers of a successful education and life. The bullies are the ones who refuse to look into the eyes of these kids and see their physical and emotional pain. I not only have to look into the eyes of my own child but the eyes of those students who walk into my classroom with that now familiar distant look in their eyes as the e-mail arrives from the nurse detailing their struggle with concussion. Many of these will never have the opportunity to make the kind of money you do, Mr. Beckmann, or have the life that you do while you call those of us “bullies” who simply don’t want to see one more child, one more student athlete, one more adult walk this journey unnecessarily.

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