Thursday, January 7, 2016

Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas

3.5 Stars
For those of you who know me, you are already aware I’m a mom of boys. (You’re also well aware of the fact that I don’t really write reviews of books, but more just ramble on about whatever I feel like and post a bunch of gifs, so this “review” should be par for the course.) My one experience with football looked a little something like this . . .

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Yes. They are doing exactly what it looks like they are doing.

When our youngest was a tiny little pipsqueak he wanted to play football. Baseball season was over and he wanted to be able to see all of his little buddies (we live in a metro area, so our kids don’t usually go to school with their teammates) so we signed him up for peewee flag and ended up on a team that was known for being the best. It didn’t take long to realize that even the non-tackle division was a little cuckoo when it came to being competitive and the boys were encouraged to “lead with their heads” and “let us hear those helmets.” Now, this was before CTE was discovered and senate hearings were held, but as a mom I knew I didn’t like it. If they were expected to crack skulls in Kindergarten, how long would it be before this was the norm???


I wasn’t thinking about brain trauma, though. I mean, that’s what the helmet is for, right? I was thinking neck/spinal injury was likely to occur. Just look at the first picture above - those little fellas looked like bobble heads! Having all that extra weight on their neck was bound to cause whiplash, right?

Turns out neck (or knee or shoulders or back) injuries were quite possibly the last thing anyone should have been worried about and a conversation had already been going on since the early ‘90s about a potential life-altering concern – closed-head injuries. The man who brought it to everyone’s attention???

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Iron Mike Webster, the best center in the NFL. A true monster of the midway who spent 15 years as a professional, played in four Super Bowls and eight consecutive Pro Bowls. A man who went from having it all to being someone who forgot to eat, who became lethargic, who peed in an oven and took up residence in a storage closet at Arrowhead Stadium, whose teeth started falling out and attempted to fix them by super glueing them back into his mouth, a man who could only get some sleep by tasering himself into unconsciousness. Iron Mike successfully sued the NFL in 1998 and was the first to win a claim for a football-related brain injury. When Mike Webster died a few years later of a heart attack at the age of 50, it was his brain that pathologist Bennet Omalu was interested in. He wanted to know what made Webster go crazy and suspected an underlying brain disease – and boy did he find one.

Concussion is the story about the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the fight to make it public knowledge, the massive tort case consisting of nearly 6,000 players suing the NFL for future benefits should they fall victim to the disease, the Senate hearings surrounding Big Tobacco the National Football League and the realization it wasn’t necessarily the big hits that caused the damage, it was the repetitive little hits (that amount to between 20-30 g’s on every play . . . .

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This was a horrifying yet fascinating read that I could not put down once I started. So, why the mediocre rating? Sadly, it’s because Omalu appears to suffer from a severe form “God complex.” I was interested in the story about concussions and the truth about the potential for my no-longer-peewee-sized (but very much linebacker-sized) son to end up with a debilitating disease should he ever want to play. What I wasn’t interested in was more than a taste of Omalu’s life story and I really wasn’t interested in hearing about his bassackwards views on relationships and family or what seemed to be imagined slights due to his race. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Dr. Omalu has dealt with racism, but I believe him being overlooked in participating in particular discussions/hearings/lawsuits regarding CTE were due more to him being completely unlikeable rather than him being black. Good news is Concussion credited another book (League of Denial) that I hope will be one that gets more of the stars from me.

Many thanks to my friend Elyse for bring this story to my attention.

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Thank you, NetGalley!

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