Highlighted by the Death of NFL Player Jim Kiick
On Father’s Day eve, former Miami Dolphin Jim Kiick passed away at 73. Obituaries all over the sports and national news noted that he died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. That is far from the whole truth.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a disease caused by repeated head injuries. It is neurodegenerative and the effects from it can show up years after the initial injuries. They include behavioral problems, confusion with thinking, and changes of mood. Jim Kiick was suffering from dementia from CTE.
In 2017, Sports Illustrated writer S.L. Price, did a story on Jim Kiick, and other NFL players who had sued the league in a $1 billion concussion settlement. This money helped to support these players (Kiick needed to go into an assisted living facility in 2016), but it certainly didn’t give back the brain capacity they lost forever.
Jim Kiick was instrumental in helping the Miami Dolphins win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1972 and 1973, the latter of which was an undefeated season. He ended his career with a 3,644 yard rushing record and 28 touchdowns, making him one of the top players in the franchise’s history. During that time, he had multiple head injuries.
A 2015 study found CTE in the autopsies of 87 out of 91 former NFL players. Football is the sport that gets the attention when it comes to CTE, but it’s something that is happening in many other sports.
My person connection to all this is actually not football, but instead tennis.
I’ve known Allie Kiick since my days of covering her as a junior and then professional tennis player on the women’s tour. She’s been through many of her own health struggles, including a battle with melanoma, and made a comeback to the court.
The one thing Allie Kiick couldn’t overcome was losing the man she knew for 21 years as a loving father. Although he just died, he had been unable to have a meaningful conversation with her for years.
TeachAids and CrashCourse
My other tennis connection brings some hope to the problem of head trauma in sports.
I’ve known Dick Gould for over 30 years as one of the most admired men in college tennis. He led the Stanford men’s tennis team to 17 NCAA Team Championship. Thirteen former players went on to win a total of 72 Grand Slam championship titles. Among those are John McEnroe, Bob & Mike Bryan, and Roscoe Tanner.
Gould is now Vice Chairman of TeachAids, a non-profit venture formed out of Stanford University which helps young people around the world who lack basic health education.
According to Dick Gould, after seven successful years investigating HIV education in 82 countries, TeachAids is now dedicated to Concussion Education.
This endeavor is “CrashCourse.” Their hope is to spread the word that one in five high school athletes will get a concussion, bringing the number of young people in the United States who get a concussion each year to 2.5 million, and they need to protect themselves.
Most concussions can be healed in 10 days with proper care, but many do not know how to treat and prevent them, and that if they aren’t taken care of, concussions can have lifelong affects — even to advanced dementia and CTE, such as suffered by Jim Kiick.
CrashCourse uses videos for an interactive learning experience students, coaches, parents, officials, and organizers of youth sports can understand. It is available at no cost and is continually being updated.
In addition to Gould, dozens of other athletic, industry and scientific advisors are involved in making CrashCourse not only accurate, but able to reach these young people before it is too late. Included in this group are record-breaking Olympic tennis stars Bob & Mike Bryan, World Cup champion Julie Foudy, Super Bowl champion Jim Plunkett, and five-time Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming Katie Ledecky.
Dick Gould told me, “We are releasing a ‘Fly-through of a real Human Brain on the 14th (of July), featuring world mountain bike champ, Kate Courtney.”
He also mentioned some exciting new about what’s to come, “By mid-Fall, we will release an interactive Symptoms Story Wall, in which 500 athletes tell their concussion stories, as do 100 parents of kids who have been concussed. It also will have a Veteran’s Section as requested by our local VA Hospital, where Vets share their concussion stories.”
The Future of Concussions in Sports
CrashCourse is working with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to start a Multi-Sport version of CrashCourse Football. They now have 16 Olympic Sport NGB partners.
As for Allie Kiick and her brothers, Austin and Brandon, they have not stopped their fight with the death of father. They donated his brain to the VA-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank.
The Kiicks have started the Jim Kiick Memorial Fund for CTE Research at the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF).
They appreciate donations for this worthy cause in the hope that not too many more suffer the way Jim Kiick did. The details are here. You can also mail a check to: They hoped to raise $21,000, in honor of the №21 the Miami Dolphin wore, and are thrilled that they were able to surpass the goal.
Concussion Legacy Foundation c/o Kelly Dean
Attn: The Jim Kiick Memorial Fund for CTE Research
361 Newbury St., 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02115