Friday, September 7, 2007 - 10:00PM[url=http://www.cfl.ca/index.php?module=newser&func=display&nid=19545]www.cfl.ca/index.php?module=newser&func ... &nid=19545[/url]
By Ed Willes,
Matt Dunigan will tell you it's better. There's more information available on concussions as well as an increased awareness about their dangers and a heightened sensitivity about their treatment. Dunigan remembers a time when the world of sports wasn't that far removed from leeching when it came to head injuries.
Now, at least, they're paying attention.
"I remember one year they accused me of milking it to get a better contract," the former CFL quarterback says, before employing a colourful, compound adjective to describe, "they."
"Can you believe that?"
So, Dunigan takes some comfort in knowing that Dave Dickenson is not being exposed to further injury and is receiving the necessary care. What he doesn't know is what the cumulative effect of Dickenson's concussions will be and what they could mean down the road. That's because no one does.
"I'm concerned about Dave's situation," said Dunigan. "I don't want anyone going through what I go through."
Dunigan, who retired in '96 after 14 CFL seasons and 12 documented concussions, won't come right out and say that Dickenson should retire; that the potential risks of returning to the Leos far outweigh the potential rewards.
Then again, if you're aware of his story, he doesn't have to.
For the past decade, Dunigan has waged a private battle against the debilitating effects of post-concussion syndrome. On television and in public, he remains the same revved-up, good-old boy from Louisiana Tech who came to Canada back in '83 and built a Hall of Fame career. But behind closed doors it's been a different story for Dunigan.
A far different story.
"I struggle with it every day and some days are better than others," he said. "It's a small cross to bear compared to what other people have but it's there.
"I deal with it and move on. There are no excuses for me. People look at you differently when they find out about this stuff and I don't want that."
Dunigan is asked about the condition. Among other things, post-concussion syndrome can bring on mood swings, memory loss, headaches. Is he afflicted by those things?
"All of the above and there are speech problems and the ability to think clearly at times," he said. "It's like a fog."
Dunigan, of course, came by every one of those concussions honestly, playing quarterback the way Jerry Lee Lewis plays the piano. He was fearless. He was reckless. There was also a time he thought he was indestructible, a notion which was encouraged by the organizations which employed him.
At least that part has changed for players like Dickenson, who's missed the last two months of the Lions' season dealing with the after-effects of his third concussion in 21 months. The Leos' quarterback has consulted with Dr. Karen Johnston, one of North America's foremost experts on head trauma. The team has exercised patience as Dickenson rests and rehabilitates.
He says he's improved. But eight weeks after the fact he still hasn't been able to resume practice and the frequency of those concussions, coupled with the duration of his recovery, raises serious questions about his return this season.
This week, Dickenson also said if he's not back by the end of the month, he'll shut it down for '07. True, he has another year on his contract but by then he'll be a 35-year-old with a history of concussions.
There's a chance he could come back and everything will be all right. But as much as the medical community has increased its knowledge about head injuries, they can't make that guarantee.
"Concussions used to be considered minor head injuries because we were taught in medical school that a concussion had only a temporary effect," Dr. Charles Tator, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto , said in a lecture some time back. "It's true that some of the symptoms are temporary, but the effects on the brain are often permanent. We can't really speak any longer of a minor concussion. There is no concussion that is truly minor."
And that's the one thing they can say conclusively.