What do football players and Soldiers have in common? Besides team spirit and commitment, they sometimes share an injury that has raised questions in both the military and the NFL — traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Both the NFL and the Army see a large number of concussive related injuries every year, and statistics show football players and military personnel have an increased risk for TBI.
This year on Fort Bragg, there have been nearly 13,000 screens for TBI, as well as 1,800 Soldiers diagnosed with TBI. Because of this high statistic, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Fort Bragg is currently conducting 13, active, institutional review board research projects on concussive injuries.
In an effort to raise awareness on TBI, the United Service Organization and the NFL Carolina Panthers partnered with Lenovo, May 14, to conduct a question and answer panel on TBI.
The panel consisted of two Soldiers, Spc. Coy Estes and Capt. Erin Long, and two NFL Carolina Panther players; retired defensive end Mike Rucker and current center Ryan Kalil. Also present was Dr. Steven C. Louis, the site director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center on Fort Bragg and section chief of Neurology.
Moderator Alyssa Salvo asked each member about their personal TBI experience.
Long was injured while deployed to eastern Afghanistan. She suffered from a TBI when an improvised explosive device detonated near her. She sought help within twenty-four hours of the injury because of a persistent and severe headache.
Estes suffered a similar injury when an IED detonated four feet away from him during his deployment to Afghanistan last year. At first, because of shrapnel injuries from the IED, Estes did not realize he had a TBI. It was only after a few days that he realized he was having severe memory problems and had lost his peripheral vision in both eyes.
Similarly, Panther players Kalil and Rucker both suffered traumatic brain injures. Kalil had his first concussion before he even began playing professional football, colliding with another player at a kick-off. Rucker does not remember the exact sequence of events of his TBI during a 2005 game with the Panthers. All he recalls was extreme confusion during the game and ending up at the hospital.
When asked if these symptoms were common to TBI, Louis affirmed that they were. Since TBI is essentially the brain being shaken inside the skull, the injury often results in memory problems, headaches, balance difficulties, vision loss, and other neurological symptoms.
Louis addressed some common myths and misconceptions about TBI such as concussions are unimportant because 90 percent of them heal on their own within a week. This makes it easy to overlook a TBI.
Another misconception in the military is that working while injured is more important than seeking treatment which does more to hinder than help, said Estes.
“If you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of the man to your right or left,” he said.
Rucker said the NFL also has some myths about TBI. These, he noted, generally came from a lack of communication and information. The culture is changing and being tough is standing up and speaking out about injuries, particularly TBI he said.
The panel was then asked what changes needed to be made in the culture (both military and civilian) to raise TBI awareness.
Rucker said the culture as already changing in the NFL. TBI has become so common among football players that NFL leadership is getting serious about making players take time off to recover.
From a military perspective, Long saw the culture slowly changing as well. She said Soldiers are starting to realize that “one guy down is better than a person who has problems.” The military has also become better about educating Soldiers on TBI and concussive related injuries.
Where and when does change need to occur? Louis said that change should start at home (in garrison) for military personnel, since 85 percent of military concussive injuries occur in garrison. Soldiers should be briefed about TBI in basic training.
At the conclusion of the panel, Rucker summarized the importance of TBI awareness in the NFL and to Soldiers. He believed that it is important to spread the word about an injury that is often swept under the carpet.
Rucker said, “Knowing is half the battle.”