Mike Pyle played football for the Chicago Bears from 1960-1969. "He wasn’t showing signs of brain damage at that time. So then of course we were only focused on the good things that having played in the NFL brought to our life," says his daughter Samantha Pyle Buono.
They didn’t know all the blows he took playing football, would cost him his life. "My father passed away in July of 2015 at the age of 76 and he didn’t know he even played for the Bears anymore," she says.
Knowing her father died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, Samantha still allows her own kids to play the game.
"You know football is a fun sport and it would be hard for me to not understand that my kids want to play their grandfather played," says Pyle Buono. But under one rule, "I didn’t let either one of my children play any kind of contact sports before the age of fourteen. Children between the ages of eight and fourteen, they are especially susceptible to brain injuries."
The same rule applies for another former NFL family. Former NFL player and Xavier Prep Head Football Coach James Dockery says, "he (his son) will not play tackle football until around middle school age. That was my family rule."
There is no guarantee of preventing head injuries in any sport. Pyle Buono says, "there’s risk and reward to every team sport including football and all the other contact sports."
This makes it vital to know what to do when one sustains a head injury. Doctor Pedram Navab, the Medical Director of Concussion Management Program says, "I do ask their parents to watch out for signs of dizziness, headaches, concentration, irritability, insomnia or hypersomnia, either sleeping too little or sleeping too much."
"Hiding their symptoms or trying to keep it from their coach or from their parents can really result in an injury that will last them for the rest of their lives," says Pyle Buono.
Dr. Navab says, "It’s called the second impact syndrome. It’s when you send a player out too quickly from when they recovered from their first concussion and they get hit again, the brain can actually swell and herniate and they can die."
Because concussions are an invisible injury, it’s crucial for athletes to speak up. "You can’t leave it in a player’s hands to say if he’s able to come in or out because most guys playing this sport or any athlete is never going to come out," says Dockery.
"We need to educate our children and enable them and power them to be the first player to advocate to their selves, to tap out when they know they need to tap out," says Pyle Buono.
Local schools are even teaching teammates to speak up for others. Rancho Mirage Athletic Director Chris Calderwood says, "They’ve been taught to look for things in their selves and in their teammates. It’s hard as a parent. You know you want your kid to be back out there, kid wants to be back out there. They say, ‘I feel fine’ you know but we found out that’s the old way of thinking."
Through knowing the signs of a head injury, speaking up, and following protocols, there will always be a risk. "We can do all this stuff, give them the education, give them the best equipment, so we always have to think of that," says Dockery.
Samantha leaves one final message, "My message is not don’t play team sports. My message is to just educate yourself. This is an issue that is affecting our children not just professional players."