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Steve Luhm: Concussions in athletes should have everyone's attention
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I've had two concussions in my life, or about as many as some football players suffer in a week.

If my brain eventually short-circuits, it won't be because I got kneed in the head by a 260-pound linebacker or took too many foul tips in my facemask.

Concussion No. 1: I was a little kid, playing in a large cardboard box which had contained a new refrigerator. My dad left it next to the garage until he could get rid of it, but my friends and I discovered it before he could do so. I climbed inside, stumbled and smacked my head on the ground.

Because it was February in Chicago, running into a concrete wall would have been wiser.

Concussion No. 2: I was considerably older, although I didn't always act like it. One night after a few beers — OK, about 100 beers — I stumbled down some stairs. I called in sick the next day, telling my boss I had the flu. And I'm sure he believed me, since I was with three co-workers when I made did my swan dive.

Anyway, I've never thought much about concussions because I rarely had to deal with them,

That changed, however, when I received an email from the editor of the University of Northern Colorado alumni magazine last summer.

He wanted me to do a story on David Stalls, a former UNC and NFL football player who is participating in a Boston University study of athletes and concussions.

I accepted.

I didn't know Stalls, although I followed his eight-year NFL career. A defensive lineman, he played in three Super Bowls with Cowboys and Raiders, winning twice.

Stalls is bright, thoughtful and articulate.

So far, his two decades of football — high school, college and professional — haven't claimed his brain. He hopes it stays that way.

"It's funny," he said. "Every time you have tests done, they ask, 'How many concussions have you had?' My question back to them is, 'How do you define concussion? All the times you were woozy or only the times you were knocked out on the ground?' I know I was woozy — I saw stars — almost every day."

More from Stalls, who today operates a nonprofit program for at-risk young men in Denver called Street Fraternity:

• "As former players, we all know someone — if they haven't killed themselves — they've lost their mental facilities. They just aren't the same people they used to be, and that's tragic."

• "We all knew — by playing — that we were sacrificing our knees, ankles, shoulders, elbows and wrists. But we didn't realize we would be losing our cognitive ability to recognize our families. Maybe we should have, but we didn't."

• "I've had parents tell me they don't want their kids playing football and I absolutely understand it. If enough isn't done right now, it could impact the future of the sport. I honestly believe that."

Scary stuff.

luhm@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sluhm

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