Archive for April, 2016

Qualities of Leadership

Coming of age in the 50’s and 60’s was a bit different than coming of age in the 21st Century. We had leaders who were out front and outspoken. And they were leaders who had experience to back up their positions on a variety of topics. Political parties had agendas that could easily be differentiated by an American public. People such as Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Jack Kennedy and his brother, Bob, Martin Luther King, and Ralph Nader were America’s spokesmen on different issues. There were disagreements between the parties, but with the help of people like Tip O’Neill, Everett Dirksen, and others, America moved forward.

Maybe I’ve grown old and jaded, but I don’t see that leadership anywhere in America today. This began as a piece about Black leadership; about who is today’s MLK or Ralph Abernathy or Julian Bond. After reading an article by Dr. Boyce Watkins, a member of the faculty at Syracuse, I had an epiphany thought, “Wait a minute. He’s right. Where is there any leadership in America today? Why don’t we have people who speak for us, the American people?” The truth of the matter is, I regret to say, that we are a nation in such turmoil that no single person can ever again be regarded as the voice of America…and what does that bode for our future?

Perhaps the principal reason that we don’t have one, two, or three voices ringing out across the land is that the land has become so diverse, it’s an impossibility to have a few speak for the many. An elementary school teacher told me a while back that 54 different languages were spoken by the children in her school. Fifty-four is a remarkable number. She rattled off about 30 just to let me know that she wasn’t joking. It’s merely one example of how diverse out nation has become. We have opened our doors to thousands of people from other lands. Many have made significant contributions to the growth of this country while others have merely served as sponges, soaking up whatever they can without making any positive contributions. There was a time when America was viewed as a stew into which thousands of nationalities and ideologies were combined. Today, we are a salad, with each piece a different view, unwilling to combine with any other piece. We are searching for leaders and leadership but we’re doing so in vain.

The qualities of a good leader are all over the map. There are, however, a few characteristics that stand out. I’ve garnered my own list, based on ‘research’ and on personal experience. My first quality of a good leader is character. Honesty and integrity are an essential part of a leader’s character. One cannot expect to build a good team if there is any doubt about the character of the person leading the group. The second quality I think of is vision. True leaders must have a vision of where they wish to take the department, division, or organization. To fulfill that vision, there must be a plan. The plan itself, if the leader is a communicator, will be developed by those within the organization. No, planning is not necessarily a characteristic, but the true leader will guide those whom he asks to create the plan so that it fits with his/her vision. This should not be considered, in any way, as deviousness or dishonest. Assuming that the vision will move the organization to the next level, the vision must be authenticated by allowing input from all of those who will be expected to implement it. The leader must have focus in the face of ambiguity and therefore, he or she must be tolerant, confident, and upbeat even when others are not. Leaders are committed to seeing the vision become a reality. My final quality of a good leader is one who is charismatic; not the hail-fellow-well-met, but the person who can make others believe that the vision and the plan will not only work, but will be, as my own leader used to say, terrific!

Are there leaders “out there?” Of course, there are. Most of them are smart enough not to want the highest office in the country, but those are the people this country desperately needs. It seems to me that we have to return to our roots and determine how we can make what worked then still work today. I’m certainly not saying, “Let’s make America great again:” America is already great in many, many ways. Now, who will step forward and say, “I have a vision and the beginnings of a plan. Who will join me in creating new horizons for this great nation of ours?” I can only hope that I will be around to see that person step forward, to embrace his or her vision, and become a part of that plan.

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Massachusetts has its own emblems. The state bird is the black capped chickadee; the tree is the stately elm; the fish is the cod; the berry the cranberry, the flower, the apple blossom, etcetera, etcetera, and etcetera. It does not, however, have a state dog, although one would think that the Boston terrier would have been snatched up immediately when it was named.

Our local high school teams are known as the Wolverines, and even our street or streets if you want to admit that we live in a development – a nice development, but still…a development. We have our street flower which is the dandelion, and the street dog which is the labradoodle. There are labradoodles of all colors just to prove that we are not a racist streets. No one is running around or protesting that black labradoodles lives matter, and while I wouldn’t know a gay dog from one that was straight, I haven’t seen any activity to let me know otherwise. I believe, but of course I could be wrong, that most of the labradoodles on our street are quite neutral or neutered or…aw, heck, you know what I mean.

This cross-breeding of purebred dogs to create new breeds or hybrids, as they are called, is confusing as hell. I have a purebred Cairn terrier – this is our third – and she’s a great dog. However, if I wished to be part of the current hybrid corps, I could own a Poocan by breeding with a poodle; a Care-Tsu if she wanted to share her wiles with a Shih-Tzu, or a Carkie if she shacked up with a Yorkshire terrier. By the way, if you think those are bad, if you cross the Bassett Hound with the Boston terrier, you get what is called a Basstan, which is pretty damned close to the way we pronounce it anyway! The American Canine-Hybrid Club is responsible for all of this nonsense. All I can think of is that some purebred bitch in heat got nailed by a local Labrador with a good sense of smell, and from this came The American yada, yada, yada. “Ooh, look at the cute little puppies. What should we call them? Oooh, I know, we’ll call them Labra…and whatever the bitch’s breed was.” I mean, c’mon, a purebred is a purebred is a purebred. My guess is that it will be a cold day in hell when the American Kennel Club recognizes breeds like the Affenpoo, the Pookimo, the Torkie, or the Peek-A-Poo. It’s an insult to purebred dogs everywhere, some of which look dorkie enough by the time the groomers get through with them for their parade around the Westminster ring.

If “A rose is a rose is a rose,” or “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” then a mutt is a mutt is a mutt and doggie poo no matter which butt it comes from still stinks! As was originally discovered by Forrest Gump, “Shit Happens,” and whether it’s some 16-year old kids who are too stupid to use protection, or an owner who allows its bitch in heat to roam the neighborhood freely, the result is the same…unwanted pregnancy. Thankfully, with a child, it’s generally only one, but if you get a litter of five or more, you have to give them a classy new name and join the AC-HC. That way you can sell the pups rather than just giving the little bastards away…ah, American ingenuity!

It seems to be the American Way today. We make lemonade out of every kind of lemon imaginable. In Little League, everybody gets some kind of trophy or ribbon or some type of recognition. No one ever asks, “Hey kid, you like baseball,” thinking under his or her breath, “because you really suck at it,” and should the child actually answer, “No, I think it’s a stupid game,” it’s off to the therapist because something must be wrong with the child. I had several kids who played only because their parents insisted that they play…and these were the loudest, most obnoxious parents you could imagine. You may as well have banged your head against the school house wall as to infer to the parents that their child might be more interested in something else. So we play on, whether its baseball, basketball, soccer, football, or hockey, no matter what, and we tell the kid who stinks how wonderful it is that he or she got a medal or a trophy, and we rename our purebreds because everyone must be a winner of some kind and not just a mutt, a mongrel, or whatever name they truly are.

I will tell you, however, that the day I see a hybrid of a Great Dane and a Dachshund is the day I will start giving out ribbons, and I’ll be damned if a Saint Berdoodle will ever find its way through my front door!

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You just never know

He was old and sorta cranky, but if you said anything like that within his earshot, it was like setting off a volcano. So, people left him pretty much to himself. I suppose that at one time in his life he might have been something like Dad…you know, funny, willing to drive you for ice cream at the Howard Johnson’s on a Sunday afternoon…but not back then. Truth to tell, we all thought he was just a grouchy, old son-of-a-bitch on whom we liked to pull Halloween pranks. Once, we blocked his door, rang the bell, and ran like the devil. He actually pushed his hand through the screen door. We thought it funny at the time. Today, I can’t believe we were that cruel…what a bunch of little shits we were!

I learned that his wife had died when I was about seven years old…a few years shy of becoming a “little shit.” Nonetheless, he always wore a white shirt with different colored vest sweaters, as we called them back then. You might remember them; they had a V-neck and no sleeves but they were knitted just like a sweater. The other thing that you’d notice about him was his khaki slacks that had a sharp crease. It wasn’t until I was about 15, when I had grown up a bit, that I realized just how rotten our gang was. We’d stopped trying to be mean by that time and had moved on better things in life…like girls!

Mr. Morgan – that was his name by the way – used to walk, every day, up to the Red & White Market on Union Street.  When we were in our “little shit” stage, we’d cross the street just to be away from him. At 15, and thinking myself some brave soul, I’d just pass him and say, “Morning, Mr. Morgan.” It usually resulted in something like an “Hmpfh,” as a return greeting. Perhaps he realized that I’d been one of those who had tried to torture him when I was much younger. Later, when I was attending college, I’d greet him with a little more confidence. That finally resulted one day in a “Mornin,” and finally, in my senior year, I actually received a “Mornin, Bob.” Imagine my surprise; he knew my name…although I have to admit that most friends my age called me Rob.

Time passed. People moved in and out of houses on the street, but Mr. Morgan was still there. When my wife and I would visit my parents on weekends, I’d sometimes see him in his yard, now using a cane and moving a bit more slowly. I wondered if there were still mean little kids like I had been, kids who’d harass him on Halloween or at other times just because he was old. It embarrassed me to think of the things I had done to this man. I wanted to walk up to him and apologize, but my own cowardice betrayed me and I never did do it.

Shortly after our daughter, Julia, was born, I received a call from my Mom. “Frank Morgan died,” she told me. At first, I wasn’t certain whom she meant. I’d never heard anyone ever call him anything but Mr. Morgan. “It turns out he was quite the hero,” mother said. “You should pick up today’s Enterprise and read what they say about him.”

Me being me and mother being mother, I knew that she’d call again in a few days to see if I’d picked up the paper. Rather than wait for the rebuke that wouldn’t be coming if I hadn’t gotten the paper, I picked one up on the way home. Let me digress here for a moment to explain what I just said. I believe that mothers are the same the world over. They don’t care how old you are, you are still a child, their child, and if you don’t do as they suggest – read that as “order” – you will hear about it one way or another. It’s both funny and kinda nice when you think about it.

I sat down after dinner and read the obituary of Frank Morgan in the Ashcroft Enterprise, our daily with a circulation of about 25,000. My first shock came when I read the headline…”Medal of Honor winner dies.” Holy crap; this guy won the CMH. Anyone who’d ever been in the military, and I’d spent several years in the Army, knew the importance of this honor. The article went on to say the Mr. Morgan had been in the Marines and had seen a great deal of action in the Pacific Theater. He earned the Medal of Honor by attacking and destroying a machine gun nest on Okinawa. It seems that his platoon was pinned down and couldn’t move but Morgan jumped up and zigzagged his way over open field to lob grenades that killed the Japanese gunners. It appears he didn’t escape unscathed, taking two bullets but still taking out the machine guns.  Later, he was awarded the Silver Star for action on Guadalcanal and a whole bunch of other medals for his gallantry.  The article noted that he received the Purple Heart damn near every time he went into action, but never a wound serious enough to get him sent home. It noted that he was survived by a son and daughter. Both were married with children. It then noted that services would be held in Thompsonville, where Mr. Morgan lived. There would be no wake since most, if not damn near all of Mr. Morgan’s friends were dead.

I didn’t know what to do. When I finally put the paper down, I realized that there were tears on my cheeks. My friends and I had been “little shits” to a true American hero. Sure, a lot of years had passed since our stupidity was on parade and yet…

…I went to the funeral alone. It was a very small turnout. I think some of the friends of the son and his wife and the daughter with her husband might have been there, but I can’t say for certain. The two couples were waiting at the door of the church, greeting attendees and thanking them for coming. As my turn rolled around both son and daughter looked at each other to see who knew who I was. “I’m an old acquaintance of your Dad’s,” I said. “I’m only sorry that I never really knew him for the man he was. Please, be very proud of your father. I know that I am.”

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I’m boorish. There, I’ve finally admitted to being a bore…or boor…or whatever you wish to call one who really doesn’t care all that much about convention. Sorry, Google and Yahoo don’t help much. Growing up, my knickers – not the British kind – had to be positioned just so; my shirt had to be tucked correctly, and my little clip-on necktie had to be worn correctly. Fortunately, the sixties brought a bit of sense to fashion and we could relax a bit. By the time college came along, sweaters and khakis found their niche but only until one graduated.

It seems to me that the only time I was without a necktie and coat jacket for the next forty years was either late on Saturday afternoon or when I changed into my pajamas at night. Obviously, my memory must be failing on that point, for in hindsight, I cannot conceive of wearing a potential noose around my neck six days a week nor of wearing some kind of suit or sport coat for any more than five or six hours a day. In the ‘office,’ the first thing to find its way to the back of my chair was my ‘uniform’ coat, except in the service where, for some strange reason, you had to wear the goddamn thing as part of the uniform…even on the parade ground. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I don’t like neckties…never have, never will. I don’t know if some women feel the same way about girdles as I feel about neckties, but anything that constrains me…and in the case of neckties, has the chance of killing me…does not rate at the top of my fashion scale. In addition, they’re a scam. ”Why?” you ask. Well, they go from wide to slim and back again, depending on the foibles of this year’s fashionistas and sartorialists. In addition, as time has passed, the old two dollar neckties has become the $150-designer special that one must own to be fashionable. What a bunch of baloney.

Would I have felt better about neckties if I was allowed to wear the clip-ons? No, of course not, because the top button of the shirt would still have to be fastened to the choking point. Should I have worn shirts with the collar a bit larger? Have you ever seen what that looks like? One’s neck appears to be sitting in a hole that’s too big and the Adam’s apple movement is much more apparent. I went from wearing a fourteen and a half shirt collar to wear a seventeen and a half by the time I retired. It was terrible.

What few people realize, I guess, is that the tie was originally a scarf worn by Croatian mercenaries hired by French King Louis XIII. The scarf was not only part of their uniform, but was also used as protection from the cold and as a handkerchief. I don’t know about other men my age or any age who would be caught dead blowing their collective noses into their neckties…just gauche!

For the first few years following retirement, an evening dinner with my spouse required a suit, collared shirt, and noose necktie. I find it idiotic that some restaurants actually require gentlemen to wear neckties and keep an ample supply on hand for those foolish enough to enter looking ‘unclothed.’ It would appear that you are not properly attired unless you are wearing a snot rag around your neck. One of the best things to happen in business was casual Friday, but then some idiots had to screw it up, and many businesses abandoned the idea. I really enjoy watching some of those Silicon Valley workers in their jeans and T’s doing wonderful things without the encumbrance of a suit jacket or necktie.

By the way, it is said that King Louis so like the scarves of his mercenaries that he insisted that neckwear be a part of all formal events at court. Things went downhill or around the neck from there. Yes, it’s true that neckties have gone through more than the width debate. Their popularity has ebbed and flowed with the various decades. Today, the necktie is still certainly a part of the uniform for the military; for many wait staff, and for businesses founded in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Hopefully, cultural changes will occur and the necktie will finally be recognized as the most dangerous item of clothing in a man’s wardrobe. After all, what did old time cowboys call a hanging? You got it…a necktie party!

My necktie days are over. Since my plans call for direct cremation, I won’t even have to wear one to the crematorium. Just take me as I am…T-shirt, sweatshirt, and sweatpants. With luck, I won’t even be wearing my sneakers!


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Candidates go home

Where did we go wrong? Did we go wrong in electing our first Black President? Did we go wrong after 9/11 when we didn’t immediately go after Saudi Arabia, our so-called allies? Were we wrong in taking down Saddam Hussein? Were we completely in error when we pulled troops out of Iraq, only to let Al Qaida fill the gap? Where? Just tell me where the hell we went so wrong that we are now faced with a situation that might, in some quarters, be the downfall of American government as we know it?

Let me say at the outset that this is just my opinion. Electing Obama – and I voted for him twice – but electing Obama was probably a mistake. Uh, uh, uh, no, not what you’re thinking. I couldn’t care less about the color of anyone’s skin, but I do care about experience, and in hindsight, I don’t think he had enough experience for the job. Okay, good question…why did I vote for him? Well, there were a couple of reasons, but they weren’t voting so much for Obama as they were voting against John McCain. The good Senator from Arizona was 72-years old at the time, and he had suffered mightily at the hands of the Viet Cong for six years. I really wasn’t certain of his health. Then, when he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate…well, need I say that being one breath away from the Presidency could have meant a loony bird running the country…see what I mean. In 2008, the Republicans put forth another pussycat as their candidate. I didn’t know much about Paul Ryan at the time, but I figured if he was willing to work with Romney, he couldn’t be all that bright, so, once more I fell into a trap.

After the first couple of years, Obama show what I call his true colors. He thought that he was the smartest guy in the room and for whatever reason, he thought or appeared to think that he could bully the legislative branch, ie, Congress, into doing whatever the President wanted. He didn’t have to ask them, be polite to them, attempt to reach consensus with them, or even have a few from both sides over to lunch every once in a while. I could be way of base here, but I’m not certain he really understood the difference between the Executive and Legislative Branches of government. Exaggerated? Perhaps, but it surely appears that way to me. Anyway, it is what it is. And yes, I’ve noted it before, but he was the first President, after seven others had failed, to get a health care bill passed by Congress. It isn’t perfect; he knows that and so does everyone else, but it’s one hell of a start, and for anyone in the Congress of the United States who attempts to trash it completely should be taken out and shot. Revise…yes; rework…absolutely; fix the glitches…you betcha! Trash it completely? You should be thrown out of office on the day of your vote.

Now, the President is in his last year in office, and everybody and his brother wants to step in and do a “better” job! Better than what? They want to make America great again. By and large, America’s pretty damned great right now. What I hear most of these candidates saying is what they believe people want to hear without a clue as to how they will accomplish it. “Round up all of the illegal immigrants and return them to their country of origin.” Oh, yeah, that’s just a minor task. “Mandate a balanced budget.” It’s a great idea, but is it really feasible? “Bomb ISIS out of existence.” Well, I’ll tell ya…that’s about the most stupid statement I’ve heard in a long time. “Climate change is a hoax!” Tell that to the polar bears, the seals, and the glaciers that are breaking off chunks the size of New Jersey; tell that to the scientists who have been studying the problem for years. This one claim is sufficient to tell this prospective candidate to go home. “Break up the big banks.” So much easier said than done. This sounds like one of those great campaign promises that doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of ever happening. “Ban the sale of assault weapons.”  Assault weapons will continue to be manufactured, ergo, they will find their way into the hands of people who want them. “Ban” is a wonderful word; you know, “Ban the sale of alcohol;” hmm, that one didn’t work out too well either, did it.

It’s all the same old rhetoric that we hear from potential candidates every four years. Here’s a question to which I have yet to receive an answer: “How are you going to get a divided Congress to begin to work together for the good of the American people?” Right now, there appears to be more anger on “The Hill” than ever occurred between cattleman and farmers; more anger than there ever has been between Yankees and Red Sox fans. Those analogies may sound funny and trite, but when candidates talk about America being angry, most of that anger occurs right there in Washington. Why is Congress holding back $1.9 billion for the study to find a cure for the Zika virus? Are they holding it as a sword of Damocles’ over the head of the President for several of their own childish pork projects? Why is Congress telling the President not to send a Supreme Court nomination to them because one party won’t talk to any candidate? Get real. The candidates that we are looking at to be nominated for the Presidential Election of 2016 are terrified of getting into the real issues facing America. They’re talking macro because they don’t have clue as to what has to be done on a micro scale. Send them all packing and send us some candidates who can understand what small changes have to be made in order to affect the big changes that can then follow.

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Driverless cars have to be better than the real thing in this, the 21st Century. I am beginning to believe that every sign on every road is merely a suggestion. “We suggest that you ‘yield’ here because the 18-wheelers that are coming along cannot and will not slow down to allow you to enter in your lovely, little Chevy Volt, ergo, you and said Volt will become nothing more than a shmear on the highway. Do ya get the picture there, Skippy?”

You see the problem here, don’t you? It’s not possible to fit all of that on a single sign nor would you wish the driver to take his or her eyes away from their texting screen long enough to read said sign. It’s a problem, wouldn’t you agree? We came across a highway construction project today on the way home from lunch – delicious lazy man’s lobster, by the way – and about 300 hundred yards before the project there were several signs. In order of appearance they read…Police Officer Ahead; Speed 25 mph; Fines Doubled in Work Zone; Single Lane Ahead; and repeated was Speed 25 mph. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I see signs like that, I generally take them to heart. There are several reasons for this: (1) the fact that they are warning me about a police officer immediately tells me that if he sees me coming through at about 35 or 40 mph, he’s going to be (2) understandably concerned, upset, or even downright irritated. If that is the case, he or she will beckon me to the side of the road and write a ticket for double the normal fine in such a work area. This, in turn, will (3) be reflected in my insurance rates for next year, and since I have not had an increase in my rates in many a year and would prefer to keep it that way. I slowed. I did not stomp on the brakes because there was plenty of time in which to slow down. Since the lady behind me in her Toyota Corolla was already making unwanted advances toward my exhaust pipe with what appeared to be lascivious intent, I tapped my brakes to let her know that if she didn’t slow down, there might be a problem. At first, she merely looked mad. On a second glance, it appeared that she had no intention of staying behind me and began to pull out across the solid yellow line, ie, a no passing line. Finally, the light dawned on Marblehead or she noticed the signs and damn near clipped my rear end as she struggled to get back behind me, once more so close that I’m certain my tail pipe was blushing – they do that, you know.

I would like to say that this was the end of our problems with the Corolla. Unfortunately, we pulled up to a stop light, we in the right lane because we were traveling across the intersection, she right on our tail. The left lane is reserved for those who are going into the center of town. When the light changed to green for us to move forward, we proceeded across the intersection. The Corolla took a left turn, cutting off the people who were in the left lane and causing a few “toots” – horns don’t seem to have that “get the hell out of my way” quality any more – from angry drivers. The remainder of the ride home was rather uneventful and, as you can plainly see, successful or I wouldn’t be writing this…whatever it is!

What the hell is wrong with drivers today, and I’m not talking just about young people? Today’s encounter was with a woman who looked to be in her fifties. I thought, “Jeez, lady, if you’ve driven like that all of your life, why aren’t you dead?” At the end of our street, there’s a crosswalk for kids heading to the elementary school. When you push the button to cross, signs on both sides of the street begin flashing bright LED lights and a “beep, beep, beep,” noise sounds. I’ve seen drivers go right on through forcing the kids to jump back for fear of getting hit. Why do drivers do this? Well, I guess they think that it’s merely a suggestion that they let the kids cross, and they’re too busy drinking their coffee, talking on the phone, texting a friend or their own child, who was just driven back by another idiot driver who went through another flashing crosswalk sign for the same reasons as the idiot number one.

The police report that is published in our local weekly rag is littered with reports of auto accidents. “Property damage” is what most report although there are also several ambulance runs mixed in. The problem is that this number is increasing. I’m quite certain that the report given to the newspaper by the police department is far from a complete accounting of what the police did during the preceding week…nor should it be. I’m just as confident that the paper is not given the complete list of automobile accidents. It’s frightening. As I’ve aged (I usually add, “Like a fine wine” but I’ll refrain), I am more cautious in my driving habits. Whether that’s because Juli is in the car with me or because I’m becoming more attuned to my mortality, I have no idea. When younger, I guess I would have called the me of today “that old fart” but staying reasonably within the speed limit – yes, 50mph is the new 40 – and constantly checking in front, behind, and to the sides is just common sense. I stop at stop signs and ignore the asshole behind me who honks his horn because of it. Where it says “yield,” I’m now smart enough to do so, thus not joining the Chevy Volt as another schmear on the highway.

I really wish that local, state, and federal agencies would increase the penalties for anyone caught using a cell phone while driving. Hands free or not, driving an automobile in the 21st Century is a full-time job, and one not to be taken lightly. There are no “do-overs” when you kill another person with your car.

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Medicine has come a long way since the days when the Egyptians were performing lobotomies without the aid of anesthesia. Since 1846, when a dentist, Dr. William Thomas Green Morton first used ether as an inhalation anesthetic to accomplish painless surgery to today, when a variety of drugs are used for that purpose, medicine has jumped by leaps and bounds…except for one small problem. It seems to me that medicine and its practitioners have been working in a vacuum by not, until very recently, considering the cause and effect of outside influencers on medical advances, eg, how severely concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) can affect one’s life.

Dr. Robert Cantu and his team at Boston University are at the forefront in the study of CTE, which, to quote from their website, “is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.” Brandy Chastain, FIFA Gold Medalist soccer player and coach, recently made news by willing her brain to the CTE Center at BU, and, hopefully, other athletes in other sports, professional and amateur, will follow in her footsteps.

Back in the days when my basketball career was in full bloom – what a crock – nearly any type of contact would result in a foul. As a consequence, it was rare for us to get really knocked around while playing the game. Today, it’s a different story. I watch, as collegians and professional hoopsters hit the floor and often bounce their heads off the hardwood. Are they concussed? I don’t know, and it’s very possible that they have no effects. It is my understanding that these “subconcussive” blows to the head may also lead to CTE. To once more quote Dr. Cantu and the BU team, “At this time the number or type of hits to the head needed to trigger degenerative changes of the brain is unknown. In addition, it is likely that other factors, such as genetics, may play a role in the development of CTE, as not everyone with a history of repeated brain trauma develops this disease. However, these other factors are not yet understood.”

All of this raises a number of questions on my part. For example, when a diver falls 33 feet or dives from the 10 meter platform, what is the effect on his or her head when they hit the water? Is it possible that the subconcussive effect of this effort, repeated hundreds or even thousands of times depending on the extent to which the diver competes, say up to the Olympic level, a potentially dangerous form of competition that could lead to CTE?

If you’ve never had a concussion, you’re fortunate. To the best of my knowledge, my experience centers around three events. The first was a slip on ice in the driveway very early in the morning in which I was unconscious for less than a minute. I lost my glasses, saw more stars than were actually shining down on me, and was somewhat nauseous. The second time was at an automotive repair shop when I skidded on some unseen sand and grease. The fall wasn’t quite the caliber of the first but the stars returned and the dizziness was in full bloom. The final tumble took place as I was leaving the gym. A new medication was working in consort with an older one; combined with what had been a good workout, the two dropped my blood pressure to “pass out range.” I awoke to find an IV in my arm and my body in an ambulance headed to the hospital. The most interesting part of this fall was that at no time during my day-long stay at the hospital did one doctor or nurse tell me that I was concussed. The egg on the back of my head told me that a concussion was a genuine possibility. I treated it as such and remained as flat as possible with the lighting kept to the barest minimum. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was speaking with my primary care physician, that the subject of concussion even came up.

Now that we know the extent to which concussions and subconcussive blows to the head can lead to degenerative brain disease, it seems to me that we should be taking a second, third, fourth, and more looks as to how our children’s heads are protected during athletic competition. How safe are the helmets worn in football, baseball, lacrosse, and hockey competition? What other sports should be considering the use of helmets? What are the sports equipment manufacturers doing to lessen the impact on the brain? Before parents allow their children to become involved in certain types of athletic competition, maybe they should consider the consequences that could occur later in life.

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