January 24th, 2012
03:20 PM ET
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.”
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.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.