‘When I recruited this kid I told his mother that I’d take care of him.’

Man, this is a tough story to read.

A few years earlier, the coach, Don Horton, had learned that he had Parkinson’s disease, but these new, intensifying infirmities were more commonly linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated hits to the head and linked to football and other contact sports.

Was his deteriorating health, Horton wondered, a consequence of his many years as a football lineman? Even worse, he worried, was he responsible for exposing hundreds of players to the kind of head trauma now impairing his life? After all, as a prominent assistant coach at Boston College and North Carolina State for nearly 20 years, he had recruited and encouraged scores of athletes to play major college football.

In the still of night at home, Horton asked himself what he should say if a parent of a former recruit called to say that a son was suffering from C.T.E.-like symptoms.

“And I would tell him that he could say: ‘I know how it feels,’” his wife, Maura Horton, responded. “And Don didn’t necessarily like that answer. But that’s the truth.”

His brain was donated after death for research purposes, because he came to believe it was necessary.

By donating his brain, Horton believed he could aid the science and, ultimately, perhaps help people evaluate whether to play, or continue playing, the game.

“He wanted to make a difference if he could,” said Maura Horton, 47. “Don would never tell someone not to play the game, because he loved football and wouldn’t betray it. But he wanted them to see a full picture to make a full decision.”

She added: “Don said, ‘If they would be more reflective and be more upfront about things that were happening to them, they might get out of the game earlier if they needed to. Kids try to hide so much about what’s really happening.’”

If those running the sport don’t grasp the wisdom of that and adapt accordingly, it’s hard to avoid thinking that one day their control will be taken away in the name of caution.


Filed under The Body Is A Temple

16 responses to “‘When I recruited this kid I told his mother that I’d take care of him.’

  1. Dave

    It’s a good point, Senator. It reminds me of the dilemma played out in “Captain America: Civil War,” without belittling the issue of concussions and permanent brain damage. That is to say, I agree that it may be better to somehow make it easier for players to leave the game when successive injuries mount and begin to lead to bigger problems before some entity steps in and ends the whole thing.

    I wonder if the NFL could work on a better pension plan, and even delve into required trust funds, among other things. Sure, it becomes somewhat socialistic, but how many players try to eek out a couple more years for some last big paydays because they did not set themselves up for life financially when they could have?

    Ultimately, I would hate to see the game of football altered to the point of being unrecognizable, or ended entirely, but at the same time, the allure, or in some cases, necessity of a few more big paychecks is causing a lot of these players to risk serious, even life-ending injuries.


  2. Russ

    I’m glad I have a daughter for a number of reasons, but one of them is I don’t have to worry about her wanting to play football. Knowing what I do now, there’s no way I’d let a kid of mine play. Joints and bones can be healed or replaced, but you’ll only ever have one brain.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Senator, what changes to the game would you suggest to minimize injury without fundamentally changing the way the sport is played? I’m interested in your perspective.


    • KingMackeral

      Having spent a good deal of time in Europe, the game of Rugby is quite similar to our football (quite exciting once you know how it works). It is starting here in the states but I predict that Rugby may be the substitute sport as tackling is not allowed above the waist (chest tackles = automatic ejection).

      But it is a much different role for the players — you have to go both ways on offense and defense.


      • I’ve always thought rugby style tackling should be a change. Pete Carroll teaches it now as more fundamentally sound technique. The teaching of fundamentals changed when the helmet and especially the face mask were introduced to football. The helmet was encouraged to be used as a weapon, and the highlights on SportsCenter further encouraged hitting high.


  4. Debby Balcer

    He would have been playing ball when I was in high school and college. I hope many of his peers do donate their brains. I know they have improved protection from helmets but wonder if the game would be better without helmets. Soccer players do need to protect their heads too so it is not just football we have to worry about.


  5. Skeptic Dawg

    The evidence is beginning to mount as more and more research is conducted and the outcome does not look promising for the game of football. Concussions, CTE, mental issues and long term health risks all for the sake of a game. A mandated minimum age requirement is not too far off, nor would it be a bad thing. Neither are radical changes to the game…no kickoffs – place the ball on the 25 yard line, no punt returns – either go for it on 4th down or march off 40 some odd yards. The health risk is far too great and the data is being ignored. Yet all the while big time college football rolls on, as does the NFL, collecting massive paychecks acting as if nothing is wrong. I love the game of football, but something has to change.


    • Russ

      The damning evidence, at least in my mind, is that it’s not just concussions, but rather “normal”, repeated football hits over a long period of time (like through high school and college, and maybe beyond). The real mystery is why some get it and some don’t. They need continued research and a way to diagnose it early, not post-mortem.


    • The evidence is pretty damning. There’s too much money out there riding on the NFL and Power 5 college football. The billions guys like Arthur Blank can’t just sit there and allow their investments to disappear. The debt holders on all of these capital investments colleges have made can’t go unpaid. Even the high schools can’t just let football die on the vine. The day of reckoning is coming and won’t be pretty.


      • Skeptic Dawg

        And that’s the problem…$$$$. I am 100% for returning college football to the game of was in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. Let students play football as an extracurricular activity. College football does not have to be a gateway into the NFL. Do away with lower entrance levels for athletes, reduce the number of scholarships awarded (make football an equity sport similar to baseball, lacrosse, soccer etc), and award academic scholarships to those that qualify. This actually helps on multiple levels, 1). Reduces the spend from universities 2). Returns college football to an amateur sport and not a pre-NFL league 3)…how am I kidding? This will never happen.


  6. ApalachDawg

    I’m always interested in watching old film of the 50s and 60s. The dudes playing were not huge like they are today. And I would say they were also playing with less padding. I don’t see/hear that generation complaining about head injuries. I think these head issues starting entering the game in the 70s and when steroids / drugs exploded on the scene.
    My theory is that these jokers today are taking a shit load of peds, steroids, hgh, etc. combine that with better nutrition and workouts and you’ve got a recipe for ticking time bombs. And a much more violent game/collisions.
    Have you looked at jokers after they quit playing, most of them slim down and don’t look like a balloon anymore.


    • Gaskilldawg

      Ever heard of Larry Morris, Decatur High All American from 1950 or so, the Tech All American in the early 1950s then Chicago Bears? Google him and you will see that chronic brain injury did hit the guys from that era.


  7. fred russo

    Why don’t we play touch football? The Liberals would love it!!!


  8. I’m old enough to say this and have some experience to back my position up….My family pediatrician (my doctor when I was a kid for those of you from Alabama) told me and my mother that football had a potential to cause a multitude of life long problems involving both your brain and extremities in the mid-sixties . So here we are 50 years later and people are acting like this is a new problem. Horse hockey……it is a violent game,play or don’t play but don’t dream that you or anyone else has the right to say they are better and smarter and therefore have the right to tell you that they have to outlaw the game ,”for the good of the children”. The do gooders have been trying to outlaw this game I enjoy for over a hundred years. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Von_Albade_Gammon . Technology and rules adjustments can and will make the game much safer but in the end its a choice , play or don’t play but don’t outlaw it because we still need to be able to teach boys how to be men.. pick yourself up, rub some dirt on it/spit on it and get back in the game. Its a lesson that more people need to be taught.


  9. steve

    American football is unfortunately circling the drain for a number of reasons.
    1. Gender inequality. Women don’t play. Women reporters and sideline babes don’t count.
    2. It is nothing more than a timed contest in colonialism (which we all know in the last 25 years is equivalent to national pedophilia). Even the phrases are about territorial possession..’their 40 yd line’, ‘our goal line’, the symbolism of flags, songs, and identity paint. Aggressive attacks on the opponent. FB is simply not pc.
    3. Injuries. Not just CTE but chronic orthopedic. People are living longer which gives them longer to blame ‘something’ for a malfunction. More blame on FB. In addition, moms may not want kids to play, especially when a 220 lb. safety running a 4.4 40 collides with their son.
    4. But the component that will eventually destroy FB is lawyers.


    • But the component that will eventually destroy FB is lawyers.

      Absolutely! After all, if there’s one immutable truth in this world, it’s that the NCAA left to its own devices will always fix things for the better for everyone.