What Can Be Done

There are a number of reasons why I write, why I choose to share my story. I don’t have a desire to write things for the sake of writing them. I write when I feel the need to speak out about something. With my previous blogs, I wrote about subjects I believed were important. I open my personal experiences to the public in order to give insight towards problems that aren’t always part of the public eye, and my aim is to get at least one person to look at important subjects (namely mental health) in a different light.

Reid Forgrave penned an important article dealing with the suicide of Zac Easter, a young man who killed himself after suffering from symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE is a degenerative disease in the brain that results from progressive trauma. Zac Easter himself determined that multiple concussions from his years of youth and high school football caused him to “lose his mind.”

Forgrave’s article frames the CTE epidemic occurring in football by using Easter’s own thoughts, illustrating the heartbreaking deterioration and death of a young man who had his entire life ahead of him. I highly suggest you read this poignant story; I will provide the link at the end of the post.

I want to take some time out now to make something clear: I am a hypocrite.

I am a hypocrite when it comes to the sport of football. As an avid follower of high school, college, and pro football, I am thoroughly entertained by a game that is as strategic and cerebral as it is mind-numbingly violent. I celebrate men who play through pain and shrug off what most people would consider debilitating injuries. I celebrate defenders who hit their opponents so hard, the crack reverberates throughout the stadium. I celebrate offensive players that can take a helmet to helmet collision and pop up like nothing happened.

Yet here I am lamenting the effects of the sheer brutality of the sport, and I sit here realizing something: I could have been Zac Easter.

My father did not allow me to play organized football due to the awful injuries that often result from football careers. Backyard and flag football is the extent of my playing career, with the rest of my experience coming from watching, reading, observing.

If he had allowed me to step onto the gridiron, would I end up like Zac Easter, like the myriad of men who carried damage to the body and mind all the way to the grave? Or would I end up like the countless others who played youth and high school ball, and have no lasting physical impairment?

There’s another way in which I could have been Zac Easter. In Forgrave’s article, he includes Zac’s personal journals, excerpts of his writings on concussions, and his gut-wrenching suicide note.

The note made a significant impact on me, as it eerily echoed my feelings from almost a year ago. Despite our different paths, both of us ended up battling anxiety and depression. Zac Easter’s family, friends, and significant other were loving and supportive, as were mine.

Yet Zac lost his battle, and I was blessed enough to win mine. It very well could have been the other way around.

I am not necessarily condemning football, that is not the purpose of this post. I am condemning the general lack of focus on mental health issues that exists in all aspects of society, which includes football culture. The sport’s risks should be discussed, and its aftereffects need to be managed.

I do not have the magic answer that will immediately solve the epidemic occurring in a sport I enjoy. I do not have the magic answer that will immediately solve the problems surrounding mental health and its stigma.

I do implore anyone reading this to open their mind. The sources of mental illness vary, allowing it to affect anyone, at any time of their life. It is important to be mindful and tolerant of those who are afflicted. Maybe this mindset could open a world of possibilities.

The link to Reid Forgrave’s article on Zac Easter.

Like what you read? Give Tom Franken a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.