Jerome Bettis isn’t sure just how much brain damage he might have suffered from the tens of thousands of collisions he sustained during his football career.
“I had a couple serious concussions, but even more importantly, I had minor concussions that I wasn’t aware of because I just thought I got my bell rung and shook it off,” Bettis told the New York Times. “But had I known then what I know now I would have handled it differently and I would have told the trainers, because the last thing I want is 20 years down the road to not have my brain function correctly.”
Bettis isn’t just concerned about concussions in the NFL. He’s also concerned about concussions suffered by players at the high school level and younger. And as a result he’s working with Dick’s Sporting Goods to promote concussion treatment and prevention among young athletes.
Dick’s is sponsoring an initiatie to give baseline tests to 1 million young athletes, measuring how well their brains — when they haven’t suffered a concussion — handle functions like verbal memory, visual memory and reaction time. Once that baseline test is completed, the same test can be given to young athletes after they’ve taken a hit to the head, and those athletes can be held out of competition until they match the scores they had on the baseline test.
The tests are already given to athletes in the NFL and other pro sports, but many high schools haven’t budgeted money to implement the tests. Dick’s is pledging $1 for every pair of shoes it sells, as well as $1 every time someone checks in at Dick’s through Foursquare or Facebook Places, $1 for every person who shares information about the program on Facebook and $1 for every Twitter message that includes the hashtag #DSGPACE.
In a new commercial for the program, Bettis says, “You shouldn’t get on the field without a baseline concussion test.” At the moment, many high school football players do. Bettis is working to change that.