Basketball vs. Brain Damage: A Face-Off

Basketball vs. Brain Damage: A Face-Off
Photo by Radvilas Seputis / Unsplash

Dark. Dizzy. Nauseous. I’m spinning. Wait, no, it’s not me, it’s the room. The room is spinning. “Emma! Emma! Can you hear me?” I blink and blink to clear my head. Nothing.

It’s two days later, I’m at the doctor’s office; “follow this pen with your eyes,”—up, down, right, and left. This feels familiar. “Stand on one leg, close your eyes.” I’m spinning again. “Button, lemon, rose, couch, Band-Aid;” I am supposed to remember those words? “Band-Aid,” I repeat back... that is all I can recall.

“What do you remember from two days ago?” my mother asks me when we get home. I remember the close-up of an elbow and then the coldness of the ground. “Basketball is an aggressive sport,” she says, “maybe you shouldn’t play.”

WHAT? I snap back into reality. This is my third concussion, but it doesn’t matter to me. I have to keep playing; basketball is my happiness, basketball is my life, basketball is my everything.

Photo by my grandfather, 2018

Apparently, that isn't’s been three years since I played. I still frequently dream about it; about running down the court and slapping the ball out of the air to block someone, about shooting the game-winning buzzer-beater, about feeling that rush of adrenaline. I ask my parents every day if I can play again, only to hear the same answer every time.

Sometimes I wonder if risking another concussion would be worth it, especially after feeling the effects of my third concussion three years later–headaches, migraines, memory loss. Is my health worth sacrificing for a game?

I think about that question a lot, especially as the manager of the team. As I sit on the side of the court, I long for the feeling basketball used to give me; now it is something I need, not just something I want. I am struggling to keep a smile on my face sitting there as if my mere presence is of any use; I am struggling, and no one is noticing. I am not a part of the game anymore. I am just another spectator. But no one cares. So, I cheer for my team, and I give them water when they need it. I’m not even the manager, I feel like the water boy.

Photo by Todd Greene / Unsplash

The Benefits of Sports

If sports can cause serious injuries, then what are the benefits? Physically, sports aid in maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and joints, controlling weight, strengthening the heart and lungs, and preventing chronic diseases. Individuals who stay active from a young age tend to decrease their risk of obesity into adulthood and increase their life expectancy.

At first glance, sports seem to be important exclusively for maintaining peak physical shape, but in reality, sports are important for improving mental health as well. According to Advent Health, engaging in physical activity reduces depression and stress, improves sleep, increases confidence, enhances concentration, and grows valuable life skills.

Socially, sports allow people of all ages and backgrounds to create a community centered around a mutual passion. The connections built from these communities last a lifetime, especially after going through blood, sweat, and tears with those individuals.

The benefits reaped from participating in sports are endless! Not surprisingly, 75% of children play sports at a young age while about 25% of adults play sports, totaling 229.7 million Americans who engage in physical activity.

The Effects of Sports Withdrawal

For athletes forced to quit the sports they love, sports withdrawal symptoms can affect them deeply. Depression and anxiety are the most common forms of mental illness resulting from withdrawal, though this list also includes eating disorders, extreme loneliness, and suicidal thoughts.

In many cases, these athletes experience loneliness because they believe that people – especially their doctors, parents, the decision-maker of their career-ending decision, or even their friends – do not understand their situation or the deep impacts of stopping sports. This feeling often lingers and forms into more serious mental health-related issues such as depression.

Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by constant sadness and lack of interest in life; in many cases, it is a reaction to loss or change. Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness often arise with depression. This is common in individuals experiencing sports withdrawal because they are living through a situation in their life that feels like an endless dark hole.

You may wonder why the effects are that deep, but just imagine this: one day, you can freely do something that makes you incredibly happy, and in just a moment, that is stripped from you. Along with feeling betrayed, you are forbidden to do that thing again, you are forbidden to even think about doing that thing.

I found an old “notes” entry I wrote on my phone on September 28, 2019 – 246 days after my third concussion and around 8 months since I had touched a basketball.

"Basketball" (2019)

I show you this vulnerable screenshot of my writing to help you understand how truly taxing sports withdrawal is; it is not just a distant concept or something that people make up to pity themselves. These are real effects that impact real people.