Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

August 23, 2015

Yes, I Admit, I’m A Hypocrite!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 10:58 am

Boy, it’s hard being a U of M football fan.  No, not because we’ve been so awful the past seven years.   That’s hard enough, trust me.

It’s hard being such a football fan every college football Saturday when, for most of the rest of every week, I’m such a staunch cheerleader for the survivors of brain injury and for the prevention of it.


Virtually even Saturday since 1974 I’ve watched my beloved Wolverines race through that banner at the Big House or take the field on the road.  As a kid, my Mom let me draw block M’s on Sociables crackers with canned cheese whiz.  She’d make her chili and we’d gather as a family and cheer on our Maize and Blue.

Those are some of my fondest family memories as a kid.

Today I don’t want my nephew to play football.


It’s hard to juggle this love/hate relationship when so much is on the line.

It used to be that head injuries acquired in football were seemingly rare.  Rare because we dumbed them down by saying a kid “got his bell rung” or was “seeing stars.”

Football players, by their very nature, are tough buggers.  Their coaches are tough.  Their fans’ expectations are tough, also.

Today we know so much more about concussion and head injury.  It has been proven that linemen repeatedly alter their brains IN PRACTICE.  We also know that people who sustain a concussion are both more likely to sustain another one and are extremely vulnerable to a worse second if they return to action before they have healed entirely.

And I can’t wait for the season to start.


Beyond the University of Michigan football, the Detroit Lions are looking promising this season and I work part-time as a public address announcer for football at my old high school.

I love the sport.

So I tell myself things.  I tell myself that football has always been and will always be.  I tell myself that I acquired my brain injury driving and I haven’t given up driving or encouraged people to stop getting behind the wheel.  I pump myself up with reassurances that trainers are better aware and helmets are better equipped and laws are now scaling back on helmet-to-helmet hits.

And I pray a lot.

I pray that every person who is even remotely in charge of a young person’s future and cognitive health will take a moment before each practice and game to remind him or herself of just what’s at stake here.

Coaches, trainers, athletic directors, officials, parents….

The game we must win this season has nothing to do with the score on the scoreboard.  The winning numbers will be in the head injuries avoided and well-identified and cautiously-treated.  Those are the numbers we have to take aim at.  Those are the numbers which have to improve.

Football colors the landscapes of Autumn all across our country.  From Pee Wee to Pro, some would consider it a sacred tradition.  One that unites families, teammates, schools, fan bases and entire states.

As we buy tickets and new sweatshirts and grab a hot dog and file into the stands, let’s all prepare a little more.  Let’s take it one step further.

Parents and family members, let’s teach our kids the importance of fair play, safe hits, concussion awareness and self-reporting.  Talk to the coaches and trainers and athletic directors to find out what type of understanding and awareness and precaution and protocols are in place.   Rally for baseline tests and, if your school cannot afford them, design one at home.  Suffer the player’s shrugged shoulders and rolling eyes and drill it into him or her over and over until there is a new perspective and a new priority.

Let’s not worry so much about how fancy their socks and, instead, really take a good look at their gear.  Booster Clubs and parents’ football clubs…rally to raise money for the best brain-protective helmets on the market and standard, baseline testing for all football and soccer players.

These are our kids we’re talking about here.

The repercussions of concussions….

Make no mistake, the hits to the head of a fifteen-year-old kid could potentially affect everything about his life going forward.  Maybe not in glaring ways.  Maybe not as obvious as the cast and crutches of a player who blows out his ACL.

But in often subtle ways that may sneak in and steal milliseconds of reaction time, percentages on test scores, higher ranges of motor skills and cognitive processing speeds, fractions of abilities that govern judgment and behavior…

And that’s for the survivors who are fortunate.

This hypocrite is going to be the public address announcer when my high school’s football team takes the field Thursday.  I’m going to don my University of Michigan sweatshirt when my Wolverines kick off their season against Utah next week.

But before I call that first kick off, that first return, that first tackle, I will say a prayer for the safety of all those athletes.  Young and old, my team and yours.  I’ll pray that every parent who reads this will keep the conversation going and, when needed, have the guts to start it.

Taking care of our players.  Making their brain health a priority.  Changing a climate that has, for so long, belittled concussion….

That doesn’t make football any less than better.  It doesn’t take away the toughness that so many people love.  It doesn’t make a player soft or slight.

But it just might save more of these kids so that they have an experience they can actually remember fondly.  Or remember at all.

They are our future.  These deserve to have all their ammunition as they head out into their lives.

Let’s do what we can to help them.  It’s our responsibility when they bring so much joy.

There’s no bigger win for any of them.  Or for any of us.

August 9, 2015

Batter Up!

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 11:03 am

Last week I was so looking forward to my niece’s tournament softball game.  I was so excited to see her enjoy one of the sweet gems of childhood.  Kids running around in wonderfully-colored uniforms, hearing the sing-song chants of terrifically-hopeful teammates, cheering each other on.  The smell of hotdogs in the air, warm sunshine on my face, the crack of the bat and the sound of the encouraging parents rooting on their youngsters.  8-year-olds being free and happy and learning wonderful lessons of sportsmanship and team work and feeling their budding potential shine in the afternoon sun.


Uh oh.


I stood behind home plate and I was privy to a close-up look at how different two groups can shape this experience for their kids.  Thank God my niece’s coaches and parents were supportive and upbeat and letting those girls just play.

The other side, uh….not so much.

This poor kid gets into the batter’s box.  Mind you, she’s 8.

I counted five people yelling at her.  Three coaches and both parents.


The poor kid had eyes like ping-pong balls.  You could see them, darting back and forth, trying to listen and be a good kid and trying to do everything being screamed at her.

At one point the mother yelled, “Move up!” and the father, on the other side of me, shot back, “I just moved her back!”  The mother snarked, “Oh really!  Like that’s gonna help her!” and back and forth they picked and pinched.

The ball went by three times and she never swung.

Strike out.

She walked back to the bench and sat there with her head down, short little legs swinging on the too-high bench.

The coaches and parents were disappointed in her.  I wanted to scream at them, “Way to go, ASSHOLES!”


It surprised me like not at all that my niece’s team won handily and moved on to the tournament championship.  I felt so sad for those girls on the other team.  Not because they lost.  But because they didn’t know if they could win.

They didn’t know if they could win.

We can all stay in school forever.  We can go to high school and college and then get our Master’s and then on to another Master’s and maybe a Doctorate…

We can read all the books and articles on recovering from brain injury or whatever we have suffered.  We can go to support groups and imagine things better and think perhaps we can take a new step.

We can read books about relationships and take classes and go to therapy and talk about relationships to our friends and imagine them in our minds and listen to romantic songs and watch romantic movies.

We can stand in the batter’s box of life and listen to everyone tell us how we should be and how we should change and how we should stand and move and tilt and turn and get in and get out and get up and get ready.

But, at some point, we gotta swing the flippin’ bat.

At some point, we just gotta get out there.  We gotta risk getting our hearts broken, risk forgetting something in public, risk striking out…

Just for the delicious reward of doing.  Of daring.  Of listening to our own voice and really hearing it.

Batter up.

At some point, we have to dare ourselves to accept the responsibility that this is OUR time at bat.  The result of this time at bat, our life’s effort, is going to reflect on our scorecard.  The hits and misses will be ours alone.

We can listen to everyone’s advice.  We can try to please everyone.  We can jump through everyone’s hoops until our heads are spinning in circles.

Or we can listen to our inner voice.  We can develop our inner strength.  We can choose to believe that we are strong enough and smart enough to go forward and realize that failure in any of those efforts doesn’t make us anything but ready to try again.  To try a different way.

It’s time to swing the bat.  To trust in all that we’ve learned and all that we’ve researched and all that we’ve experienced.   Enough to dare to strike out.  Enough to dare get a hit.

You have an inner voice that gets drowned out by all the chaos and noise around us.  For all the advice that anyone gives you…for all the opinions and for all the dictates and mandates…

In the end, nobody really cares what you do and I say that as a good thing.  People just want to see you happy.   They want to see you take care of yourself.   They want to see you independent and strong and fun and engaging.

Just go swing the bat.  Let the cautions and fears be damned and go let the big dog run.

You won’t know if you need more knowledge, more savvy, more practice, more courage, more anything….unless you test it out.  Unless you measure your progress.

Striking out only means that the pitcher was better than you in that at-bat.  Not for a whole life.  Not for a whole season.  Not even for a whole game.

Getting your heart broken just means that you were with the wrong person and you still need to shape up your choosing and matching skills.  Failing at anything is just a signal that there is a turn coming up ahead in the road.  It’s just letting you know that the right person, the right job, the right anything you want is not on the road you are traveling.

There are a trillion roads.

And thank God we are the ones behind the wheel.

Let’s allow our kids to just play.  Teach them in practice and then let them swing.  Let them strike out and let them get hits and let them fail and succeed.   But let’s take our hands off and put it in theirs.

Summer is racing by.  Soon the diamonds will be silent.  The chalk lines all will fade.  The benches will clear for the last time.  Bats and gloves and cleats will give way to new school clothes and new sports and new equipment.

How far along are we?  Each?  How far along are we in the summer of our lives?

We may as well give it a go.

Swing and miss.  Foul it off our big toe.  Pop up to the catcher.  Dribble it in front of the plate.

Maybe we’ll just go up there and tug at our cap and dig into the dirt and set our jaw and knock it right out of the park.

Let’s knock it right out of the park.

Batter up!!!

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