‘More to life than the game’: Head injuries cause some players to rethink football

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Saturday, September 14, 2019 | 3:45 PM


Zach Guiser has enjoyed life since he left football in 2017, ending his college career early because of concussions.

But the sport isn’t far from his mind.

“I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss it,” the Greensburg Central Catholic graduate said.

He was a fifth-year senior at University of Akron when he realized one more crushing hit, one more glancing blow to his head, could damage his brain to a point of no return.

The play that would be his last saw Guiser collide headfirst with a teammate’s leg during a game against Iowa State. His third diagnosed concussion was three too many.

Common headaches and fogginess ensued.

Time came to prioritize the next “60 to 80 years of my life,” he said.

“I don’t regret my decision,” said Guiser, 24, who lives in North Canton, Ohio. “Just like any other decision in life, the costs and benefits must be weighed. In my situation, the costs began to greatly outweigh the benefits.

“Football can be an incredibly powerful tool to improve your life situation, through scholarships, relationships, (creating) a platform for initiating social change and learning valuable life lessons. However, at some point, the possibility of increasing the risk of degenerative neural conditions has to be factored in.”

The Journal of the American Medical Association released a study in 2017 revealing that the brains of 110 of 111 deceased ex-NFL players exhibited signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head.

The study showed that it wasn’t just former NFL players — the Will Smith movie “Concussion” brought the issue to light — but players at the high school and college levels also showed symptoms, some to a lesser degree, of CTE.

According to UPMC, 5% to 8% of high school football players will suffer concussions in a given season.

Norwin quarterback Jack Salopek suffered a concussion last year during a game against Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic. Salopek said he blacked out for a few seconds after a jarring hit.

While the hit shook him up at the time, Salopek returned and played well for the Knights. He is committed to play college football at Western Michigan.

“It makes you think about playing the game more safely as a QB,” Salopek said. “You don’t want to play timid, but you have to be more careful and not put yourself in certain situations. I used to play linebacker, so I still have the mentality to run someone over. I can’t think that way.”

Guiser, now a strength and conditioning coach with Columbus, Ohio-based Elite FTS, plans to work as a health care provider. He said the issue of head injuries needs to be addressed at an early age.

“I believe that precautions can be made to possibly minimize the risks that are associated with the game,” he said. “I would encourage parents to withhold their children from tackle football until their middle school years as a way to protect young, developing brains, avoid developing bad playing habits that can arise when small children wear such heavy equipment, and minimize the overall number of impacts that they will experience in their lives.”

As for current players, Guiser’s advice is more of a cautionary tale.

“For the athletes who are further into their career and are becoming concussed, I would encourage them to remember that they are more than just a football player,” he said, “and there is more to life than the game.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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