Fleiszer '92 speaks out about concussion

Veteran CFL star and Selwyn House Old Boy Tim Fleiszer was featured in an article in the Montreal Gazette about the dangers of concussion.

To read the Gazette article, click here.

A related article from the 2015 issue of Veritas appears below:

Fleiszer warns about concussion

Selwyn House Old Boy Tim Fleiszer ’92 visited the school on January 27, 2015 to deliver a very urgent message about the dangers of concussion in sports.

Tim knows the subject very well. He was a McMaster Trophy winner at Selwyn House, excelling in football, hockey and rugby. Upon graduation, Tim entered Choate-Rosemary Hall School, where he captained the football team to back-to-back New England Prep School Championships in 1992 and 1993. Accepted to Harvard, in 1994 Tim won a spot at starting fullback and became the first freshman to start in Harvard football history, and he was captain of the team in 1997 when they won an Ivy League Championship. Drafted into the Canadian Football League in ’97, Tim became one of few players in CFL history to win four Grey Cup championships with four different teams. In 2010, Tim was one of the two first inductees into the Selwyn House Athletic Hall of Fame.

 But he did not revisit Selwyn House to talk about his storied career. He came to warn students and parents about concussions, how common they are and how they can be diagnosed and treated.

He started by describing the brain as a fragile organ “the consistency of pudding or Jell-O.” When the head is violently shaken, the brain moves within the skull, and can be seriously injured, even though the athlete may feel no pain nor see any injury. A jolt can cause a concussion, even if there is no blow to the head. Sudden linear motion can also cause a concussion, but rotational motion is even more dangerous.

Athletes who sustain concussions are 3.79 times more likely to get a subsequent muscle or ligament injury within the next 90 days, Tim said. But that is not the most serious possible outcome.

Many times, an athlete and his teammates do not realize when a concussion has taken place. Too often, athletes are eager to continue playing, and that’s where the situation can get even more serious. “Trying to hide symptoms puts you at risk and puts your teammates at risk,” Tim stressed.

Second-impact syndrome (SIS) occurs when an athlete who has already sustained a head injury sustains a second head injury before symptoms have cleared from the first. This second blow to the head, sometimes minor, can result in a loss of auto-regulation of the brain’s blood supply, leading to rapid brain swelling. Fifty per cent of SIS sufferers die, and the survivors rarely recover fully. It usually occurs to athletes under the age of 21.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found typically in athletes and others who suffer repetitive injuries to the brain. Symptoms include mood-changes like depression, aggression and impulsivity, as well as cognitive impairments such as loss of memory and executive functioning.

Recently there has been an increasing alarm over cases of dementia among NFL players who sustained repeated head injuries. Some cases of suicide among former pro-football players have been blamed on CTE. Up until 2007 the NFL was still denying that a connection existed.

“The year 2007 was the first time the world changed in how we look at concussion,” Tim said. “The incidence is much higher than anyone thought.”

How to avoid these injuries? With 60 to 75 per cent of concussions occurring in practice, teams could reduce hits in practice. They could avoid targeting the head in contact. Modern equipment doesn’t necessarily help the problem; in fact harder modern padding can make the situation worse. Neck-strengthening exercises and changing helmets often can help.

When a head injury takes place it’s “critical, critical, critical that you repair it,” says Tim. The only treatment is rest, both physical and cognitive. That means no TV, no computer and no cell phones.

To save our brains we must use our brains, Tim says. The only solution to the concussion problem is “changing the way we think."