Let’s Not Throw Our Kids to the Lions

During Roman times men were placed in arenas to do battle. Sometimes the battles were so fierce that only one man would come out alive. Thank goodness in the fifth century, this type of activity was deemed to be cruel and barbaric and was finally outlawed.

But maybe that barbaric activity changed into “new” and more socially acceptable practices like say; boxing, football, hockey, cage fighting, and maybe even warfare depending on how you look at it. (Where strength over weakness is celebrated as victory) Perhaps mankind’s’ fascination with humans pummeling each other actually continues unabated to this day. In Roman times most of the combatants were not necessarily in the arena by choice……. but they were always adults!

Children were not thrown into arenas as tiny gladiators.

So how have we evolved in modern times to the point where we are now willing to put our own children in such battles? How is it that we can put them in the equivalent of cheap Halloween costumes and ask them to emulate their NFL heroes? We did it. And we can honestly tell you we didn’t know at the time that we were slowly killing our son. We just didn’t have the information necessary 25 years ago to make the proper decision for the welfare of our child. Our biggest fears were orthopedic. Bones (for the most part) can break and heal. Now we have learned BRAINS CANNOT heal like bones can. And this we have learned the hard way. (The hardest way imaginable) We lost our son at the age of 32. And sadly he was lost before he ever had a chance to live his life.

Our son Patrick never played in the NFL. Patrick was like millions of children before and after him that just played for fun and success in life. But throughout high school, prep school and Dartmouth College, our sweet, tough, young running back received enough sub-concussive blows to his head to essentially seal his fate. When he died, a newscaster friend of the family suggested he might have CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. We had never heard of CTE before. We had heard about NFL players having brain issues but never dreamed it could have an effect at the level of a college player. When Patrick’s autopsy revealed he had widespread CTE we were shocked and horrified. How many other players like Patrick are there out there? How many other families are dealing with a loved one gradually coming unwired and have no clue what is happening? Not every grieving family has a newscaster friend saying the words CTE. For the sake of American families this has to change.

People need to know that this disease is out there. That it can occur in youth and high school and college levels of collision sports. Families need to know what the symptoms are and how to address the disease. This has been hidden in plain sight for much too long. It was this realization that prompted our family and friends to form the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation and the website,StopCTE.org. Families are burying loved ones all over this country thinking they died from suicide, drug addictions, PTSD, depression, ADHD, and irrational behaviors. Thinking that somehow something happened to change the person they loved, and feeling somehow that they failed them. Very few are linking these deaths to CTE.

Since CTE can take a decade to be symptomatic, most often no one is linking it to previous military or sports history from so many years ago.  CTE is an insidious disease that grows very slowly in the brain. We believe the magnitude of this horrific disease has yet to be discovered. Gunplay and murders are in the news every evening, and we always wonder how many of the perpetrators played one football game too many. Society muffles the fact that a reported 20 veterans a day commit suicide, and that suicides exceed homicides every year.

Science is showing that children are in danger and need our help and that families are in crisis. Parents are receiving conflicting data and just don’t know. Every person has the duty to save these children and families. CTE is 100% preventable. Let’s learn as a society to cheer our children in sports that are not harmful to their brains. Let’s get kids out of the arena.

Karen & Doug Zegel
Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation

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