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SN Concussion Report: Living Through the Fog of Football

Lanky Livingston


Not really sure if this belongs here, but its a very interesting report. The idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder sounds terrifying...

In the middle of the night, in a dark bedroom, Greg Koch pursues a defender who exists only in his mind. Twenty-five years after he retired from the NFL, Koch still dreams about football. But this is not normal dreaming. What he dreams, he does, often crashing onto the floor after he throws himself out of bed. More dangerous than his football dreams are his fighting dreams. He wakes up from those to his wife’s screams as he chokes and punches her.

Koch has idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder, which causes him to act out his dreams. His doctors trace it to repetitive head injuries that he sustained while playing football in the NFL, college and high school. Koch says he suffered at least three concussions, and in the worst, the AstroTurf appeared to turn brown.

The disorder started for Koch roughly 10 years ago. Medication controlled it for a few years, but it has been coming back lately. Doctors also have told Koch, 57, that because of his head injuries, he’s 50 percent more likely to get Parkinson’s disease and 50 percent more likely to develop early onset dementia.

Acting out his dreams he can deal with. Losing his mind, he can’t.

Koch believes if he commits suicide he would go to hell, so he hopes someone else would help him avoid the misery of a living oblivion.

"The worst thing anybody wants to do is be one of those guys that you have to change his diaper,” says Koch, a lawyer in Houston. “Just put a gun to my forehead and empty the clip if that ever happens.”


Koch is one of 125 former NFL players who took part in a Sporting News survey about the impact of concussions. The results suggest far more players suffered far more concussions than previously has been reported. The consequences are far-reaching for the players and their families.

Of the 125 players, 115 reported suffering at least one concussion. Of those 115, 76 listed at least one mental-health symptom that could be related to their head injuries, though many said they could not definitively tie their problems to concussions.

The most common ailment among the former players is memory loss—56 players listed it as a symptom. Other common problems include headaches (19), depression (12) and mood swings (seven).

Koch is the only respondent who mentioned idiopathic REM sleep behavior disorder, but eight others named sleeplessness as a symptom. Some go up to three days without sleeping. Others haven’t slept through the night in years. Sleeplessness can be a symptom and a cause, as it leads to or exacerbates other problems—depression, irritability and poor-decision making among them.

Four former players reported vision problems and five reported hearing problems. Three have both. Four players said they have trouble with their balance. Three said they struggle with cognitive issues, meaning they have problems concentrating.

A University of North Carolina study conducted seven years ago found 60 percent of former players reported at least one concussion, and 24.4 percent suffered three or more concussions.

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