The Collegian
Saturday, February 24, 2024

Damaged: concussions affecting former football player

Chris Hurlburt came to Richmond from Vienna, Va., to play football, but after suffering his seventh concussion during summer training camp in 2010, he was forced to quit.

Hurlburt walked-on to the team as a fullback, a position based on running the ball and blocking for the quarterback and other running back.

During training camp the summer of 2010, Hurlburt suffered his sixth concussion. Then two weeks later he suffered his seventh, which ended his collegiate football career. It's been more than a year since the collision and Hurlburt continues to struggle with symptoms, he said.

"I still have issues concentrating during class," he said. "I continue to have problems sleeping too. I have been trying different medications to try to find something to help, but I haven't been able to find one yet."

Hurlburt is a senior majoring in psychology, but will be taking a ninth semester to graduate, he said. Because of his concussions he has been forced to miss a number of classes and assignments, but he said many of the professors had been understanding.

John Laub, senior quarterback, has been Hurlburt's roommate since sophomore year and has watched Hurlburt struggle through his concussions, he said.

"It makes you stop and wonder a little bit," Laub said. "People who have to play in high-contact positions like he did make you nervous. Recurring symptoms and consecutive concussions make you worry about their ability to continue playing."

Hurlburt played football for George C. Marshall high school in Vienna, Va., and suffered four concussions there, he said.

Hurlburt was a standout at George C. Marshall, which put even more pressure on him to return from concussions because his team needed him, he said. But the pressures he faced in college were different, he said.

"In college the reasons for returning to the field changed a little," he said. "In high school, my team needed me, here it was the pressure of someone just as good as me taking my spot. In college, the longer you sit out the harder it's going to be to get your spot back."

Hurlburt joined the team under coach Mike London, who had promised to give him a scholarship if he played well, but after London left he never got a scholarship, Hurlburt said.

Although his concussion count continued to increase, Hurlburt's father had pushed him to continue playing and earn the scholarship, he said. Nevertheless, he was quick to say, "My parents never put my mental health at risk," he said. "But no one wants to pay for this school, so I did what I could to keep playing and try to get the scholarship."

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Sophomore year Hurlburt sustained his first concussion at Richmond, but doesn't remember it being an intense hit, he said.

But returning to play too soon is what ultimately ended his career, he said. "The number of concussions I had was a concern, but it was the compounding that was the real issue," he said. "Getting hit back-to-back weeks was what did me in."

According to a New York Times article, once someone sustains a concussion he is four times more likely to sustain a second one. It also takes less of a hit to cause a subsequent injury and requires more time to recover.

Contrary to popular belief, a concussion is not a bruise to the brain caused by hitting a hard surface. Indeed, no physical swelling or bleeding is usually seen on radiological scans, the Times reported and continued. The injury generally occurs when the head either accelerates rapidly and then is stopped, or is spun rapidly.

This violent shaking causes the brain cells to become depolarized and fire all their neurotransmitters at once in an unhealthy cascade, flooding the brain with chemicals and deadening certain receptors linked to learning and memory, according to the Times. The results often include confusion, blurred vision, memory loss, nausea and, sometimes, unconsciousness.

When Hurlburt's seventh concussion was diagnosed he was unable to remember the day, the month or say his ABCs, he said. He then met with Dr. Robert White, a Richmond neurologist, to discuss his future, he said.

"Dr. White never told me to stop playing football," he said. "But he told me about the long-term effects of these hits, how my mental health was at risk and statistics of Alzheimer's in football players now. He was definitely trying to scare me straight, I think."

Contact reporter Rachael Bilney at

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