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Lowery, Concussions and the Balance of Career and Health

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I love football, but I also love life.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

During the winter of the year I was 12, the walkway in front of our new home had iced over. For whatever reason, my 9-year old sister and I decided that riding our two wheel scooter down this walkway had excitement written all over it. As I rode down the icy path, I quickly lost my balance and in one sweeping motion I fell backwards, slamming my head onto the frozen concrete.

I don't remember much about that day, other than telling my sister to "go to the hell" (something my Asian mom used to say) and walking back up the icy walkway. That happened sometime during the morning, when my sister and I were at home alone and my parents were both at work. The next memory I had was of laying on the floor, watching the TV show "Growing Pains", having lost the 8 to 10 hours in between.

Over the following years, I would go on to sustain at least 5 more concussions - with two more of them being severe.

That's why, when I read about what has recently kept Dwight Lowery off the field, I wonder if it's just a matter of time before we see him escorted to the sidelines yet again. I also wonder if the time is quickly approaching where Lowery will need to choose between his long-term health and his professional career.

About Concussions

As defined by the Mayo clinic, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. If that sounds dangerous, that's because it is. Though there is some debate over the types of severity, there are three widely accepted levels of concussions: Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3.

Grade 1 concussions are synonymous with "getting your bell rung." You don't lose consciousness, but may be temporarily disoriented and/or suffer temporary memory loss.

Grade 2 concussions are usually identified by a brief loss of consciousness, along with a longer period of memory loss.

Grade 3 concussions - what I suffered falling off that scooter - normally involve the loss of consciousness, along with extended memory loss and other symptoms (such as nausea, dizziness, vomiting, etc).

Sadly, the long-term effects of concussions are still unclear. What is clear is that successive concussions make a person more vulnerable to them in the future. Whether they have a cumulative effect or not is still being researched, but the science suggests that the long-term implications of multiple concussions is not good.

The more you get your bell rung, the easier it gets to ring, and the more ringing it does in the future.

The NFL and Concussions

Most football fans are aware of the recent lawsuit and settlement between the NFL and former players in regards to concussions and their lasting impact. While the NFL has agreed to pay for treatments and research, there are many that think that it's not enough. After all, how can 20-something year olds see clearly that their future health is on the line as they play this physical and often very violent sport. It's a legitimate question, and one that has an impact on the team we're all passionate about.

Dwight Lowery and His Future

As you've no doubt heard by now, this training-camp concussion will be the third for Lowery since entering the NFL - and his fourth overall. While the league has a "concussion protocol" that has to be adhered to, the bigger question is whether Lowery is ever going to be fully capable of putting in a full season without the risk of a subsequent concussion taking him off the active roster.

He won't be the first player whose career is put in jeopardy by concussions. Players like Troy Aikman decided to hang up the cleats early due to multiple concussions suffered during their careers. Older players often express regret at having been "tough guys" that played with concussions, only to suffer irreversible long-term damage that decays their quality of life as they go into their golden years.

But what about Lowery? What does it mean for him?

Honestly, we can't know for sure. When he's healthy, he appears to be an above average player who can help this team win games. I was excited about his signing this summer, and still hope to see him on the field. But my history with concussions cautions me. The chances of seeing him play a full 16-game season are suspect, at best. And that's not to say that Lowery isn't a good player or even injury prone - it's a realization that concussions are serious business, and a history of having them only increases the future chances of having them again all the more.

What Next?

While fans patiently wait for word on whether Lowery will finally get some snaps, the underlying reality is that this is a man - who has family and friends - that needs to consider the long-term impact to his health, when counter-balanced against the pursuit of his career. The decisions he makes about his future must be weighed against the potential future that awaits him. It's not an easy decision, and it's one that fans should be patient with. While Lowery may be eager to be out on the field, we should always remember that these are human beings putting their necks on the line. It's easy to overlook the physicality and long-term consequences when it costs us nothing.

As for Lowery - I do hope we see him on the field again. I think he can be a great free safety for our team while Dezmen Southward is allowed to mature. But the reality of concussions and their lasting impact can't be ignored. While I'd like for the Falcons to have the best possible player at free safety, I also hope that this man - who has sacrified his body for this game - can have a future in which he is engaged and alert, and relatively free of the long-term consequences of the career that he chose.