This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
As students and their families take a few days off from school and work this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, I thought it would be appropriate to share some wisdom from former NFL player Honor Jackson's recent visit to Northgate High in Walnut Creek.
Jackson visited the school to talk about concussion awareness, prevention and treatment, while also lauding staff and students for their Safe School Sports Award from the National Athletic Trainers' Association. In addition, he gave students some advice to help them understand that although sports provide many wonderful life lessons, athletic activities are no substitute for a well-rounded education.
"Sports is a great, great thing in our culture," he said. "It's big in America, big in most cultures. One of the things that I teach all of the kids that I work with in my mentoring program and our sports camps and whatnot is sportsmanship, teamwork and be thankful that you have the talent to play. Others have talent in math, speaking, writing, whatever it might be, being a doctor. But, be thankful for those talents, whatever you may have."
Jackson said students should also be thankful for the education they are getting about the dangers of concussions, pointing out that he and other players didn't know about the need to rest after getting knocked in the head back when he was a professional player.
"I wanted to get back out onto the field," he said. "As a matter of fact, I wouldn't even tell the coach that I was seeing stars or that I was dizzy or that I couldn't remember the next play. I wouldn't do that because I didn't know what we now know -- that when we do hit someone in a jarring fashion or in a collision, that it does shake your brain. That's education. And that's what you all need is that education. And that's what they're providing here -- that education for you -- so you know what you're getting into, so down the road, you won't have the dementia and those kinds of things."
Students should be thankful for well-trained coaches and teachers who are aware of the effects of concussions, Jackson said, since problems can develop if head injuries are not identified and students are not allowed to recuperate.
"I'm thankful I'm here and I'm thankful I can talk to you guys about these things," said Jackson, now 65. "What you want is -- when you get to be my age -- to be able to do the same thing. Take care of yourself. Take care of your body physically and mentally. You guys need to understand that this concussion thing, when I was your age, that meant nothing. Now, we understand."
Many athletes must rely on their education if injuries prevent them from continuing to play sports, he said.
"The reason I quit playing football was I got injured -- I tore a nerve here in my leg," Jackson said. "That's another thing that happens in sports. But it didn't stop me from doing anything else. The concussion part could have possibly stopped me from doing other things. If I injured my shoulder or injured my knee or my foot, I may not walk perfectly, but I could do any other job there is to do. That's exactly what happened. When I got injured, then I had to go to another career. But I had education. I had a degree."
Jackson worked for several years as a manager of Long's Drugs Stores and also works mentoring youth.
Yet, he said he learned many important lessons through sports.
"Through football, I've learned that I could get knocked on my rear end and get up and play again," Jackson said. "That will happen to you in life. Sports teaches you a lot about life, whether you play soccer, football, basketball, track, whatever it is. Your competitive juices are what made America what it is. We've got to get back to those ideals in terms of being a strong country. I think you guys could lead that charge."
What are you thankful for?