Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Concussion Discussion?

Author: Lee Jay Berman

Junior Seau Chargers[This blog post was originally written on August 9, 2015]   Something needs to be said about yesterday’s NFL Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.  There was one very important person missing:  Former All-Everything Linebacker Junior Seau.  He is missing because he took his own life in 2012, between the time he retired after 20 NFL seasons, and the date of his induction into the Hall of Fame.  He took his life by pointing a gun at his heart and putting a bullet through it, allegedly so as to not do damage to his brain, and to leave it to be studied by doctors to assess the impact of repeated concussions from playing the sport.

Seau was one of several to take their own lives in this way, presumably to prove to the NFL and others that they needed to study Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE, chronic brain damage that is said to make people feel crazy, like they’ve lost their minds, and also known for leading to severe depression), and because he could no longer live with the symptoms of the disease.  Seau did not leave a note, but the year before Seau’s suicide, Dave Duerson committed suicide in the same fashion and did leave a note requesting that his brain be studied for CTE.  To date, 18 players have been diagnosed with CTE, and 8 more are suspected to have had it.  Currently, 32 living former NFL players have been diagnosed with CTE or ALS, presumed to have come from repeated concussions.  These are names you know, including Brett Farve, Tony Dorsett, and Jim McMahon.

As you know, this space is not one for advocacy of one side or another on an issue, but rather to advocate for the discussions we should be having about difficult issues.  Neither side can stick their heads in the sand on such an important issue, but on this one, both sides did.  Players, ceding for the moment to the macho, jock stereotype, were not the most likely to step forward and admit a medical weakness from playing the game.  And the NFL owners likely looked at this as a risk of potential liability, so they went into denial mode until these suicides began, almost as a trend.

Eventually, the players filed a lawsuit, and there was a 2013 settlement, though it is still in conflict, with players opting out.  What’s wrong with this picture?  Isn’t this how our society works?  One side or both on an issue put their heads into the sand, refusing to acknowledge a problem, forcing the hand of the other to file a lawsuit in order to get the other side’s attention, and after each side has spent unheard of amounts of money fighting in our adversarial system, only then do they begin to have discussions.

What would happen if at the beginning of the problem, the very genesis of it, they brought in a mediator to serve as a neutral party and help them exchange information, discuss options, and look toward solutions and resolutions?  As a mediator, I can say that there is a huge difference in the options available to us early on in a dispute, as opposed to later, after litigation and discovery have entrenched everyone.  In the early stages, we talk about collaborating on a resolution, in the late stages, we talk about accepting a monetary settlement, often from an insurance policy that covers the defendant.

Until insurance companies, corporations, and individuals begin to decide to talk it over in the early stages of a conflict, we are going to keep going down this same path.  And what should be glorious celebrations of sport and victory will continue to be marred by death, sadness, and whispers of what would have been, and how it could have been different.

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Saying Goodbye to The Great Teachers

Author: Lee Jay Berman

John R. WoodenJust one week ago, members of the mediation community gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the life of our dear friend and mentor Richard Millen (see Mediation World Loses a Patriarch).  My friend Phyllis Pollack wrote a wonderful summary of that night in her blog.

Today, we lost the great teacher and coach John R. Wooden, long time and legendary UCLA basketball coach.

I’m wondering with these teachers now gone, will we continue to follow their lessons?  I’m wondering with them now gone, the Dalai Lama turning 75 and Nelson Mandella turning 92 next month, I’m wondering who will be our next great teachers?  Who will walk the talk and live a life that embodies both greatness and goodness?

Wondering this makes me proud to have been in the company of Ken Cloke last week.  Ken was a co-founder of Mediators Beyond Borders and has published prolifically.  Ken is a great teacher who lives a life of compassion and grace.  Erica Ariel Fox is another.  She founded the Global Negotiation Insight Institute and is working on her first book.  I see many other great mediator friends doing incredible work – teaching conflict resolution skills in prisons, or to children.  Most of them are growing and preparing into our next great generation of teachers.

Sports might offer us Coach K at Duke basketball or Phil Jackson and his blend of Native American,  Zen and Christian learnings, known for giving his multi-millionaire players books on philosophy, spirituality and balance.

I don’t think we’re going to see teachers of the caliber of Richard Millen and John Wooden any time soon.  They had so much in common, not the least of which was, to quote Kareen Abdul Jabbar on Coach Wooden, “he sent a lot of good people into this world.”

Coach Wooden had said that his proudest accomplishment as a player was being named Scholar Athlete of the Year at Purdue.  Richard Millen, a humble young man from Tennessee  became a Harvard Law graduate.  The national college basketball players of the year (man and woman) receives the John R. Wooden Award; the Southern California Mediation Association’s peacemaker of the year receives the Cloke-Millen Award.  Both men were selfless – Coach Wooden was paid $32,500 in his final year at UCLA in 1975; Richard Millen also made a small fraction of those mediators who he mentored.  Coach lived by, “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of being.”  While Richard Millen would agree, perhaps his favorite was, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say:  ‘we did it ourselves’.”

Who will lead us next?  Who will be our next great teacher?  Who will be worthy of us learning from?  Will it be you?

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