Ex-Pat Sean Morey to address Brown session on head injuries

By Jim Donaldson

Providence Journal Sports Writer

They had to hide his helmet.

That was the only way the Philadelphia Eagles could keep Sean Morey from going back on the field after he'd been knocked out.

And this wasn't in a game. It was in training camp.

It was during a tackling drill and Morey, a wide receiver whose NFL career hinged on his ability to contribute on special teams, made the hit “with everything I had.”

“I was knocked out cold,” he said. “In my entire career, that's the one concussion I sustained where I was taken off the field. When I came around, I wanted to go back out. But they hid my helmet. I was [angry].”

Isn't that the way the game is played?

It's a tough, physical sport. You hit, you get hit. Sometimes, you get hurt. But you learn to play with pain.

Getting one's “bell rung” is part of the game. You wait 'til the cobwebs clear, then go back out and try to help your team win.

That's the culture.

And that, says Morey, along with many others who have become increasingly, and deeply, concerned about the effects of concussions in sports, is something that has to change.

That's why he will be returning to his alma mater, Brown University, Monday night to participate in a colloquium featuring Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at the Boston University School of Medicine, which is doing research into the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in athletes, and Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard football player who became a popular wrestler with the WWE and is the author of “Head Games — Football's Concussion Crisis.”

The session begins at 6:30 in Salomon Hall with the airing of an HBO special on sports concussions, which will be followed by the colloquium at 7. Admission is free, and open to the public.

“If I'd known then what I know now, would I have done it any differently?” said Morey, who this fall will be playing his 10th NFL season with his fifth team.

A seventh-round draft choice of the Patriots after a record-setting career at Brown, Morey has played for New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Arizona, and this year with the Seahawks in Seattle.

He has played in Super Bowls with the Steelers and Cardinals, and in 2008 was voted to the Pro Bowl for his play on Arizona's special teams.

“That's a question,” Morey continued, “that I'm not comfortable answering. I don't know how I would have reacted.”

But he knows how he'd react if one of his three young daughters, who soon will be old enough to play youth sports — including soccer, where concussions occur frequently — were to be hurt.

That's why he's doing everything he can to educate young athletes, their parents, and their coaches, and why, as an organ donor, he's decided to donate his brain to science for research purposes.

“Anyone who's played in the NFL for any period of time is going to have had his share of head injuries,” Morey said. “This is an opportunity for me to do my part to support the research that people like Dr. Cantu are doing.”

The effects of those injuries may not show up until later in a player's life, when dementia, cognitive impairment, depression, and other brain-related illnesses have been cropping up with disturbing frequency among participants in contact sports such as football and boxing.

“It's alarming,” Morey said. “That's why it's important that our experts understand how concussive episodes affect the brain, and that we learn more about what the long-term effects are of repetitive head trauma.”

It's at least as important that parents, coaches, and trainers of young athletes do their utmost to understand those effects.

“I've tried hard,” said Morey, “to look at this practically. Football teaches so many lessons — accountability, selflessness, leadership. It's important to maintain the integrity of the game.

“But there are ways to address the issue.”

Players must tell their trainers and coaches when they think they've been hurt. In which case, they shouldn't be allowed to return to the field.

“Young people's skulls are thinner,” Morey said. “Their necks are weaker. Their brains are still developing. They're more susceptible to damage.”

Multiple concussions can be particularly damaging.

“When you get a concussion,” said Morey, “it's like a mini-seizure. There is a period of vulnerability when another hit could kills thousands of brain cells. If a concussion isn't managed properly — if a player comes back too soon — the athlete is much more vulnerable.”

Morey pointed out that the NFL has adopted a strict “return to play” criteria for players who have had concussions.

“Trainers and coaches need to understand the risks and share in the responsibility to advocate for health and safety,” he said. That's what the colloquia tomorrow night at Brown is all about — helping people understand the risks and improving the health and safety of athletes of all ages.

“This issue affects a lot of people,” Morey said. “That's the reason we formed this committee — to pool our resources so we get this right. We want to make changes based on science that can protect athletes and the integrity of the game.”

 

(this article appeared in the Sunday Providence Journal, 4/25/10)