January 24th, 2012
03:20 PM ET

Human Factor: Living and thriving after the NFL

In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship - they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. This week, former NFL player Lamar Campbell explains why he's dedicated his life to helping educate high school football players about the dangers of the game.

In 2005, I was given an opportunity to work in the scouting department for the Detroit Lions, the only team that I had played for professionally.

I was still fairly young and energetic, a little heavier but seemingly healthy, and ready to attack this opportunity head on with the tenacity that I played the game. What I didn’t expect was a chance to spend a training camp with my childhood football idol Andre Waters.

Andre “Dirty” Waters, as he was dubbed by the local Philadelphia media, was considered one of the most feared hitters ever to play in the NFL.  To stand in his presence made me feel like a little kid again; craving his war stories, advice on life, coaching and how to evaluate talent.

After one of the first practices, I told him: “You made me want to play safety in the NFL. I modeled my game after you every time that I stepped on the field.”

His response haunts me today [Waters committed suicide in November 2006], but pushes me forward in our fight to understanding the importance of player safety and concussions. With a smile he answered, "But how do you feel?” At that time I enthusiastically replied, “I feel good.”

My player transition piece for CNN on the opening night of the season, has elevated the discussion on concussions, CTE & post concussion syndrome. 

On my radio show I have spoken with some of the top minds in the field. This dialogue has helped others understand not only the causes and symptoms of concussions, but also the treatment and prevention of such drastic measures as suicide. When I reflect on former Chicago Bears player and my Voice America Sports colleague Dave Duerson’s life, I didn’t want his death to be in vain.

This NFL season has been a season of learning. Since September the NFL has implemented a concussion observer at every game to look for injuries that may be missed on the field level. 

The NBA has initiated the same type of policy to determine if players can return to play. There are numerous hockey players that have missed significant time because of head injuries, most notably veteran Pittsburgh Penguins player Sid Crosby.

The most important question that still plagues current and former players is this: How often do we know what the concussion symptoms really are?

I was raised to be a man of integrity who lives with no regrets. You make decisions and live with them - until recently. Knowing what I know today has fueled my passion for being a proponent for the education of concussions.

Yes, this is a chosen profession where athletes are heralded as gladiators of the sport. But we have a duty to the kids and student athletes to educate them to the risks of the game beforehand. 

Looking back, not fully understanding the impact and deeper meaning of the conversations that I shared with my childhood idol, is something I regret.  Armed with the information I know now, this man would have answered that question, "How do you feel?" with "I’m not so sure."

Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been following the 2011 season of a North Carolina high school football team. In 2008, a player on the team died after sustaining a head injury during a game. For a closer look at the health and safety issues on the playing field, watch "Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reports: Big Hits, Broken Dreams," premiering January 29, 2012, at 8 p.m. ET.

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. rpatter

    Thank you, thank you! Young players think they are invincible but need perspective and education. Coming from someone who has played, I think they will listen to your message and more teens will go on to have less life-altering injuries.

    January 24, 2012 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • correct

      totally agree, but, sometimes the love of the game takes over, i still play, i got two more years left. I have had three surgeries, and after each one I said it was going to be over after another serious injury. I know I will be hurting when i'm forty, but i know I only have a short period of time to play, and only limited opportunity to play the greatest sport ever played. I believe i'm going into my 14th year of football as a junior in college.

      January 25, 2012 at 21:42 | Report abuse |
  2. Ellen


    Lawsuit filed by over 100 former NFL players over job-related injuries sustained 2-30 years ago. NFL compensation for these injuries is minimal.

    January 25, 2012 at 08:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Seriously

    you get paid millions to play a game...poor you.

    January 25, 2012 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jason

      getting paid millions, but losing at least the last ten years of theirr lives, say that about any other sport, but not football, you could actually male the argument that they dont get enough, btw they may live ten years less than the average american, and there in extreme pain for the last fifteen years of their lives.

      January 25, 2012 at 21:32 | Report abuse |
  4. julian cruz


    January 25, 2012 at 17:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Molly Brown

    I love to watch football. However, the comparison of players to modern day gladiators couldn't be more accurate. Instead of using swords,knives, lances and other weapons to destroy opponents, football players use their helmets, legs, arms, and body force to crack heads, necks, joints, and skeletons. Their only shields are speed, arms, legs, hands, and the clock. I predict in 100 years, boxing and football may be outlawed. Despite the advances in technology, boxers and football players are dying with concussions, early Alzheimer's, and other injuries directly caused by the sports they love so much.

    January 27, 2012 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. larry5

    When a player gets used up there's always a replacement waiting for their chance.

    January 30, 2012 at 04:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Malik

    Scientific studies in 2009 revealed increased incidence of diagnosis of memory loss and dementia among retired professional football players. Those studies also revealed that chronic traumatic encephalopathy diagnoses are increasingly common among deceased football players. Such symptoms are believed related to the effects of concussions. Time for school officials to make all parents aware of these risks so that they (the parents) can educate their children accordingly.

    January 30, 2012 at 13:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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