KAKE NEWS ON YOUR SIDE INVESTIGATES spoke exclusively with one first round draft pick who knows all too well about the head injuries that can follow and the long term consequences. 1985 Chicago Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon is as out spoken today about concussions as he was a mad man on the field of play. He talks with us about the very injuries that drove so many players he loved to take their lives and offers some advice for anyone suffering a concussion.
“I had a great time playing I got to play with seven different teams, play with a lot of different players and coaches,” McMahon said. “And that’s what you miss, just kind of hanging out with your buddies.”
But every broken record, every touchdown, and all that fame and fortune came with a price.
“Oh, I got pounded a lot,” McMahon said. “There was quite a few I was surprised I even got up from.”
McMahon took a few moments out of a visit with a friend in the hospital in Chicago to Skype with us because he feels so strongly about this. He’s notoriously outspoken about concussions. Since 2.5 million Americans visit emergency rooms every year with head trauma, 250,000 of those kids, his star power certainly helps.
“All these sports where there are those collisions and people hitting the ground and hitting their head, you’re going to have some problems and to get them diagnosed, that’s the biggest thing – get these people diagnosed properly,” McMahon said.
Despite the best efforts of sports, from the professional to the pee wee level, the suicide rate among athletes is on the rise. In March, Olympic cyclist, Kelly Catlin took her own life just months after suffering a concussion. Her family mentioned one key clue was a personality change.
It’s those signs, changes in personality, memory loss, and irritability that are commonly found in the scores of athletes who’ve taken their lives. That worries health care professionals like Dr. Kimberly Molik, who treats young athletes every day at the Wesley Pediatric Concussion Clinic.
It’s something McMahon knows all about.
It’s the extreme symptoms like depression or suicidal tendencies that Dr. Allen says raise the most concern. But, she says, not enough concussion victims do get the help they need, ignoring signs, determined to tough it out.
“I remember one game in college, I got knocked out in the first half, came back, played the second half. Didn’t remember I played. Didn’t know… I didn’t remember how to call the plays,” McMahon said.
“We do know that still almost two thirds of kids will return to play during that same game. And if not, they still return to play before their concussive symptoms have resolved,” Molik said.
Much like Kallie Hutchison, an El Dorado teen we introduced you to last year. A football and basketball player, she was recovering from her second concussion at the time.
“I couldn’t stay in school for more than an hour, for at least a week. I slept all day, couldn’t do my homework, couldn’t look at anything,” Hutchison said. “Sports are kind of my life” she said.
Her attachment to sports, despite her injuries, something McMahon shares. We asked if he would do it all over again and he said he would.
“I would rather play baseball. That was my that was my first love anyway. But I would. I would still play football again. I mean, I love the game. I don’t want the game to go away. This is not what this is all about,” he said.
With athletes unwilling to give up their game of choice, McMahon advises instead, better diagnosis.
“Every player should be have a head/neck x-ray, before every season, after every season,” he said. “If you get dinged in a game, just throw them in the MRI machine for five minutes.”
He’d also like to see some changes in how we play the game he loves.
“This game is violent and I don’t know what else we can do other than take the helmets, go back to the old leather helmets, and see how many guys use their heads then,” McMahon said.
For youth who refuse to admit they’re struggling but are showing behavior or personality changes, Dr. Allen suggests forcing them to see a psychologist, even if they refuse to talk.
McMahon has said in many interviews, if he had had a gun at the worst of his pain, he would have used it. He’s glad he didn’t have that access.
“You have to put your ego aside,” McMahon said. “You can only play for so long. And, you know, most of us have a pretty long life. So, if you want quality of life when you’re done playing, you’ve got to take care of yourself.”