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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
CNN Presents: Big Hits, Broken Dreams
Aired February 25, 2012 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to Friday night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get ready, baby.
GUPTA: In Sportstown, USA. Greenville, North Carolina. It's a small town with a big passion for sports. These are the four-time high school state champions, the Rampants of JH Rose. They know what it's like to win.
AJ FLORES, 2010 QUARTERBACK: Coming out here and watching them play, when I was young, I had to play for this team.
GUPTA: They know what it takes to win.
GRAY DIXON, LINEBACKER: You want to be known as the best, the strongest, toughest. Survival of the fittest.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get him. Yes, he's down.
GUPTA: They also know the painful price of trying to win.
TODD LIPE, COACH: It's an inherently dangerous sport. I mean, when football first started, they tried to outlaw it.
GUPTA: But no one could have imagined what would happen to these champions in 2008.
LIPE: To me, that was a perfect storm. You wouldn't know how many times I've thought about me doing something different.
We can't have you coming outside.
GUPTA: It was Todd Lipe's first year as head coach at JH Rose High School. Football was always his dream.
LIPE: Ever since the third grade, I've always been involved in football. Either playing it or coaching it.
GUPTA: Sixteen-year-old junior Jaquan Waller was Coach Lipe's star runningback.
LIPE: He was very athletic, he was quick. And great smile. Good attitude.
ZACH ROGERS: Amazing football player. Fastest guy on the field.
GUPTA: Zach Rogers was a teammate and a friend. He was there when it all began.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in.
ROGERS: And he came through, our middle linebacker hit him straight on.
GUPTA (on camera): Did you think, that was a hard hit?
ROGERS: We all said, oh, that was a good hit. You could just tell, he was shaking cobwebs out of his head, just one of those plays where you know he got his bell rung. The coach just came over and looked at him and they carried him off the field to get checked. And make sure everything was all right.
LIPE: Our trainer at the time, he wasn't even on location for some of those practices because of other obligations with other fall sports.
GUPTA (voice-over): Not having an athletic trainer there is not unusual. Fewer than half of high schools in the United States have a certified athletic trainer on the field. Many, like Rose, actually have first responders who are trained in first aid only, not a certified athletic trainer educated in recognizing head trauma.
And that is in part why things started to go critically wrong. Despite having headaches and balance problems, the responder, who eventually arrived on scene, told Jaquan's mother that he might have a migraine and sent him home. No mandatory visit to a doctor, no rules for what need to happen before he got back on the field. No one knew any better then.
MARKIEST WALLER, JAQUAN'S BROTHER: He complained of a headache after that.
GUPTA: Jaquan's older brother, Markiest, remembers.
(On camera): It doesn't sound like people were two worried about it.
WALLER: I mean it happens. I mean, you're in practice and you get a ding, and you think you'll be OK, and that was pretty much it.
GUPTA (voice-over): Jaquan showed up for practice the next day, gearing up for Friday night's game against rival Hoggard High School.
ROGERS: That day he was fine, cracking jokes as normal.
GUPTA (on camera): Did he want to get back to play?
ROGERS: Oh, oh, yes.
GUPTA: Did anyone say to him, look, too early. You shouldn't be playing yet. It's -- think about that hit you just took?
ROGERS: No, because, everybody just thought he just got his bell rung. I mean nothing out of the normal. It's just how you play. You play hurt when you have to.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go.
GUPTA (voice-over): Friday night, September 19th, 48 hours after the concussive blow to the head, Jaquan was back on the field, without being cleared by a doctor. It was the second quarter and a hit occurred that few noticed.
ROGERS: It wasn't even a hit that he should have been breathing hard or coming off saying his head hurt, and Jaquan just started to like, tapping the coach, and then he started gripping, and then he fell. And he was pretty bad.
GUPTA (on camera): What did he look like?
ROGERS: He was kind of foaming at the mouth a little bit. And you could tell he wasn't there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know where you're at?
GUPTA (voice-over): This time the trainer was there, but the ambulance wasn't. Many estimate it was about 10 minutes before EMS arrived on the scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to try to keep you as still as possible, OK? I know it's a little scary.
GUPTA: And by then Jaquan was unconscious.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She got to give me your medication.
WALLER: My mother had called me and she's crying and stuff, you know, something's wrong with -- they're putting oxygen on him.
GUPTA: The ambulance rushed to nearby Pitt County Memorial Hospital, arriving about 20 minutes after the hit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Jaquan hit the doors, young man, critically injured, not breathing, still in his football uniform, you could cut the quiet and tension with a knife.
GUPTA (on camera): So he was brought right here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right here to 48.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Scott (INAUDIBLE) was the trauma doctor who treated Jaquan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pretty much knew that this was a fatal event and then it was confirmed once we saw the CAT scan.
GUPTA (on camera): All this white next to the bone is the blood.
(Voice-over): What you're looking at is Jaquan's subdural hematoma and also the swelling in the brain that was so intense, so significant, it was not survivable. Within an hour and a half of him being injured, Jaquan was essentially brain dead, kept alive only by life-support.
WALLER: Oh, man, he's just laying on the bed, and his head is swollen. He's not moving, he's not talking, he needs help breathing from this -- you know, this respirator. I mean, I just lost it.
GUPTA: 10:50 a.m., less than 72 hours after his first concussion, 16- year-old Jaquan Waller died.
The autopsy would reveal this. It could have been prevented.
(On camera): Did you feel a sense of personal responsibility?
BEVERLY REAP, SUPERINTENDENT, PITT COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Absolutely. Absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Friday night's death of Jaquan Waller is being felt across Eastern Carolina's football community.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Waller was tackled, walked to the sidelines then collapsed.
GUPTA (voice-over): When 16-year-old Jaquan Waller died, it was big news in this small town.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Officials say Waller's death has been tough on the entire school.
GUPTA: And it was the second death of a North Carolina high school football player in just one month from a head injury.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the athletes at Rose would like to take 23 seconds of silence in memory of their number 23, Jaquan Waller.
WALLER: That's him right, in the middle.
GUPTA (on camera): So he's cracking a joke, huh?
WALLER: Always laughing and joking.
GUPTA (voice-over): Three years later, in Jaquan's bedroom, where everything is still untouched, his brother is filled with regret.
WALLER: Life's short. What has he done? What has he accomplished? You know, I had big hopes and dreams and aspirations for my brother.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hurry, hurry, hurry.
GUPTA: On the field where Jaquan played, Coach Lipe is still second- guessing.
(On camera): You think what happened to Jaquan could have been prevented?
LIPE: I mean, there's a lot of things that can be prevented. GUPTA: Did you feel a sense of personal responsibility?
REAP: Absolutely. Absolutely.
GUPTA (voice-over): Beverly Reap is the superintendent of the Pitt County School District. Like Coach Lipe, she has never spoken in depth about what happened.
REAP: This is the first time, and only time, in my 32 years in this business, that we felt like we lost a child on our watch.
GUPTA: October 2nd, 2008, 12 days after Jaquan's death, the autopsy report was released. Jaquan died from second impact syndrome, deadly brain swelling resulting from two back-to-back concussions. The question, had Jaquan not played just two days after that first concussion, would he still be alive?
REAP: We should have required a physician's release before we allowed him to play.
GUPTA: A school district investigation would provide the answers.
(On camera): There were specific things that you guys found. A trainer not specifically on the field, the follow up for Jaquan after the first concussion. Was there a specific thing in the end that you said that could have possibly saved Jaquan?
REAP: Yes. Having a hit in practice and being allowed to even be on a field or participate without being seen and released by a doctor, you don't go back out.
GUPTA (voice-over): In 2008, there were no statewide mandates for when young athletes with a head injury must leave the game or when they can return. And that wasn't just in North Carolina. A nationwide study showed that from 2005 to 2008, 40 percent of players continued playing despite having a concussion. And 16 percent were allowed to return to play the same day they had been knocked out cold.
Just ask Dr. Brock Neisler how dangerous this is.
DR. BROCK NEISLER, SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR: If I take your shoulder back like this --
GUPTA: He's a sports medicine doctor who moved to Greenville, soon after Jaquan's death.
NEISLER: Adolescents take longer to heal from their concussions than their college and pro counterparts. We know that something is different going on in their brains.
GUPTA: You see, young brains are particularly vulnerable. Neurons are growing faster, connections still being made. And while a death, like Jaquan's, is rare long-term damage from many concussions is not.
FLORES: When I was young, I had to play for this team. GUPTA: A.J. Flores' big dream when he moved to Greenville was to be JH Rose' quarterback and to play college ball. Jaquan was a close friend since middle school.
GUPTA (on camera): When that happened to Jaquan, did you -- did you ever consider quitting or stopping football?
FLORES: No. Not one bit.
GUPTA (voice-over): November 2008, just two months after Jaquan died, A.J. was Rose's junior varsity quarterback. He had already suffered three concussions. One from a dirt bike accident and two on the baseball and football fields. And then this happened.
FLORES: I got called hike and I looked like I didn't know where I was at, but I don't remember that. And that's when they pulled me.
GUPTA (on camera): You were just bad --
FLORES: I was completely out of it.
GUPTA (voice-over): What A.J. just described was his fourth concussion, a day his mother, Linda Perdue, will never forget.
(On camera): Did someone drop the ball here, literally?
LINDA PERDUE, MOTHER: You know I struggle with that every day. I think maybe I did as a mother. You know. Maybe I'm the one who dropped the ball. Maybe I should have stopped when A.J. had his first concussion.
FLORES: I can see that it hurts her that she didn't pull me, but I think -- I don't think I could have been pulled at all.
GUPTA (voice-over): A.J. saw doctors and his concussion symptoms, which were painful headaches, insomnia, and irritability eventually subsided. 2009, he was sidelined most of the year by a knee injury, but by 2010, his senior year, A.J. was back. He started off the season getting a fifth mild concussion. And then, in the conference championship --
FLORES: I remember getting hit hard. I remember that actually rang my bell.
GUPTA: The sixth concussion would end A.J.'s football career. And like four other players in Greenville that season, A.J. now suffered from post-concussion syndrome or mild traumatic brain injury. For weeks, months, even years, A.J. could have headaches, difficulty concentrating, emotional irritability.
His dreams, like Jaquan's of getting a football scholarship vanished.
FLORES: At the time, I wasn't aware of how bad it really could affect me and eventually did affect me and I was just thinking, I've got to get back on the field and help the team win. GUPTA: And A.J. isn't alone. Every season, according to the Sports Concussion Institute, one in 10 high school football players get a concussion. Thirty-five percent get more than one. And it's these players, like A.J., who might develop post-concussion syndrome. And in the rare case, like Jaquan, can die from multiple concussions.
And all of that really puts the pressure on administrators, like Dr. Reap. Make football safer, protect our kids, without breaking the bank.
REAP: Nothing like this kind of a situation to help you reorder your priorities.
GUPTA: But how?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any feeling below your belly button?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
GUPTA: A community still reeling from tragedy fights back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just relax. No shortness of breath, Brooke?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any feeling below your belly button?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where'd you get hit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down there somewhere.
GUPTA: Just weeks before Rose High School's opening game --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Squeeze over here. Real hard.
GUPTA: -- a player is down on the field.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just relax, No shortness of breath, Brook?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nope.
GUPTA: This is a time for split-second decision-making.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So we're going to roll to my right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's take the mask off. One, two, three.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.
GUPTA: But this time, it's only a drill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then I would be talking to the parents, coaches.
It's scary for the athletes because it becomes real.
GUPTA (on camera): And it's a drill now, but this could be something that you actually apply to real life.
SHARON ROGERS, SPORTS MEDICINE TEAM, GREENVILLE: I have a scenario for the athletic trainers.
GUPTA (voice-over): Sharon Rogers is a key player in Greenville's brand-new sports medicine team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Anthony Rook. He's got an open tib-fib fracture.
GUPTA: When Jaquan Waller was critically injured on this field in 2008, nothing like this existed. There was no athletic trainer spotting injuries, no EMS at the ready, no plan, and no budget to pay for anything. School superintendent Beverly Reap and her team came up with an innovative solution.
REAP: We live in this little town with all kinds of experts. We don't need to pretend we know what we're doing. Yes, we need to bring folks in and say, what would make this -- what would make this better?
GUPTA: Greenville is after all the place "Sports Illustrated" called Sportstown, USA.
Home to East Carolina University's championship ECU Pirates and their renowned sports medicine program, and the only trauma center east of Raleigh, North Carolina. But in a small rural town strapped for cash, putting everything together was a tall order. Rogers, an assistant professor at ECU, was the first on board to tackle the biggest challenge, putting athletic trainers on every field in the county.
S. ROGERS: Would you drop a child off at a pool or an ocean that didn't have a lifeguard? And if the answer is no, then you wouldn't drop a child off at a football game or a football practice without an athletic trainer.
GUPTA (on camera): If those high schools around the country that have football programs but don't have athletic trainers, they say, look, you know, we can't afford it, what would you say to them?
S. ROGERS: It's a matter of deciding between new uniforms and an athletic trainer. Or a new ice machine or an athletic trainer. I do believe even in the midst of catastrophic situation there can be a resolution.
GUPTA (voice-over): Her novel solution?
BECKY GRANT, ATHLETIC TRAINER: I have told you, you do not have it by today, you do not practice tomorrow.
GUPTA: Higher ECU graduate students, all certified athletic trainers who earn one-third the salary of a veteran. Twenty-four-year-old Becky Grant is the first trainer assigned to Rose.
(On camera): Do players listen to you? I mean if you have to make that tough call, you have to take a player's helmet.
GRANT: Yes. Yes. And it is -- it is tough, because, you know, we're not here to keep players out. A lot of the players they're like, oh, Miss Becky, she's going to, you know, she's going to kick me out. Don't go to her. And I'm like, no, I'm here to keep you safe.
He does have symptoms of a concussion so my protocol is --
GUPTA (voice-over): The plan, once Becky diagnoses a head injury, she contacts Dr. Brock Neisler.
NEISLER: The sports medicine team does not function without an athletic trainer and doesn't function without a sports medicine doctor.
LIPE: My trainer tells me he can't go, he can't go.
GRANT: Your ligament still good, you might have sprained your MCL, but none of it is black.
GUPTA: Head coach Todd Lipe, still haunted by Jaquan's death.
GRANT: I'll let coach know.
GUPTA: Says Becky and Brock are the bosses when there is an injury on the field.
GRANT: Maybe we'll ice him down and get him back in the second half.
LIPE: I'm glad I got a trainer who's going to take control of that. That's nothing I ever wanted anyway. You know I don't want to make that decision.
GRANT: You can't do any physical activity, no running, no lifting weights, no football practice. You've got to let your brain rest.
GUPTA: But even with this brand-new medical team, keeping the kids off the field is the next huge obstacle to tackle.
LIPE: They're acting just like the NFL guys when they're asked, are you OK, and they're saying, heck, yes, I'm ready to go.
FLORES: Me, I wasn't going to tell anyone I was hurt. I'm going to play until I can't play which --
GUPTA (on camera): That doesn't surprise me.
GUPTA (voice-over): And it's not just former Rose High School quarterback A.J. Flores. More than half of all high school athletes hide their injuries from medical personnel. But now a new computer test is designed to catch those players in bad lie.
NEISLER: Last year we know that there was kids that were dishonest with us. They'll show you a sequence of words that they're going to want you to remember.
GUPTA: This season, varsity athletes must take a pre-season cognitive computer test that gives the medical team a baseline of each player's brain function. And if they have an injury, the player is retested. If they don't pass, they don't play. And trust me, this test was tough.
(On camera): Says, later in the session you'll repeat this test. At some point it comes back.
NEISLER: And that one's more difficult.
(Voice-over): On July 29th, the entire varsity squad piles into the library for test time. That's linebacker Grey Dixon, he's a senior, number 34.
(On camera): How was that exam for you?
DIXON: It's pretty challenging.
GUPTA: Yes, I took it, too. I thought it was pretty challenging as well.
(Voice-over): Grey will do anything to play this season.
GRANT: No lifting, no physical activity.
GUPTA: Last year he was blindsided and concussed on kickoff. It was a season-ending injury.
DIXON: I felt dizzy. I had headaches for probably like six weeks, almost.
GUPTA: Football has always been Grey's dream. He watched his brother win a state championship in 2007, but he also saw his brother suffer when his friend and teammate Jaquan Waller died in 2008.
(On camera): Did anyone think that after that happened to Jaquan that maybe, you know, this is just a dangerous game. I mean, it's too dangerous?
DIXON: I'm not sure, really. I mean, it's dangerous. Everything's dangerous, really.
PAM DIXON, MOTHER: I was, of course, a parent that feared it could happen again. And I said, it's OK if you do not play. If you don't want to play, it's fine.
GUPTA (voice-over): Grey's mother, Pam, didn't have the heart to keep her son out of the sport he so loved. DIXON: I didn't want to stop my senior year. That's my biggest year. No questions asked, I was going to play.
GUPTA: So grey is ready. The medical team is ready. And they're both about to be put to the test.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon. Here are your headlines this hour.
The clock is ticking in the nation's capital for occupiers at two camps near the White House. Police threw down an ultimatum. Leave or you'll end up in handcuffs.
On Friday, police put up a notice telling occupiers they can't camp there overnight anymore. So starting around noon Monday, officers could start making arrests.
We're keeping a close eye on the situation for you here on CNN.
In Canada, an Afghan family, Mohamed Sophia, his wife, and their 21- year-old son have been convicted of murdering these four women. The murdered women are Sophia's three daughters and his first wife. Investigators say the three conducted these so-called honor murders to punish the victims for being rebellious and westernized.
Those are your headlines this hour, now back to "BIG HITS, BROKEN DREAMS."
GUPTA (voice-over): Wednesday, August 10th. It's 90 degrees out as dust falls on the Rampants' Field. It's less than two weeks before the season open. They're scrimmaging against Leesville Road High School.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got to go. It's time to turn it up.
GUPTA: The team is healthy. But all of that is about to change.
DIXON: I led too much with my head, really.
My head feels weird. I just have like a bad headache.
GUPTA: Linebacker Grey Dixon is hurting.
DIXON: I don't feel right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it worse?
GUPTA: On the sidelines, the new medical team is waiting. A medical doctor and Becky, the athletic trainer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I wouldn't send him back in.
GRANT: No, you can take your pads off, Grey.
GUPTA: Grey is devastated and frustrated.
DIXON: I don't feel like I need to go to a doctor.
GRANT: No, you do. It's policy, I'm sorry. You don't play again until you go see the doctor.
GUPTA: Tonight's scrimmage is over for him, and who knows whether he'll be able to play in the upcoming season open.
DIXON: I mean, I have a headache, but I mean it's football, you can get headaches. I told my coach and the coach told the trainer, I mean, so she said I can't go back out there. I really don't -- I've had concussions before, I don't feel the same as I did then so I mean I think I can still be out there.
GRANT: No loss of consciousness --
P. DIXON: The first thing I thought was, here we go again. And I got to the school as quickly as possible.
GUPTA: Pam Dixon meets her son in the trainer's room.
GRANT: I'm going to give you a list of words.
GUPTA: Becky goes through an extensive checklist to evaluate his concussion symptoms.
GRANT: Can you keep your eyes closed?
DIXON: Makes it a lot harder.
P. DIXON: Made me very nervous, very nervous. He was just slow to react. More slow than usual.
GRANT: I do think you have a concussion.
GUPTA: Becky's immediate orders?
GRANT: Try and limit texting, computer usage. Your brain can only rest and get better if it is resting.
GUPTA: Early the next morning, Grey has a visit with his doctor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands out, turn them over. Close your eyes.
GUPTA: He confirms Becky's diagnosis, a mild concussion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've just got to be cautious.
GUPTA: Grey will have to sit out, again.
DIXON: I feel fine now. Like, with I'm just going to rest and come back.
GUPTA: But this time, they're going to take things slow. Grey will be monitored by doctors and his athletic trainer the whole time. After a day or two symptom free, no headaches, no dizziness, Grey can begin light exercise. Then he can slowly increase physical activity every couple of days, but he must stay symptom free. If that happens, eventually he can work his way back to the field.
But the clock is ticking. The season opener, less than two weeks away.
Monday morning, five days after the hit, Grey insists he's ready to practice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ready to come back to play?
DIXON: Yes, have some fun. I'm all right.
GUPTA: But unlike past seasons, they won't just take his word for it.
GRANT: We're going to test you. I'm going to see where you're at.
GUPTA: Remember that grueling computer test all the players took before the season began? Well, Grey takes the test again. Becky will compare the new results to Grey's pre-season baseline. The news is not good.
GRANT: Your verbal memory score and your visual memory score and your reaction time are down.
GUPTA: Becky calls her medical supervisor. I mean, he's been symptom free for a week now and when did he get his concussion, like a week and a half ago?
GUPTA: But she soon learns that Grey started running and lifting weights just days after his injury.
GRANT: You are making your recovery longer or could be. So that's why I want to stop all activity, let you rest, we'll test you again tomorrow afternoon, see if it's closer to your baseline.
DIXON: All right.
GRANT: If it is, then we still have a chance to play on Friday. If it's not, then Friday is probably out of the question.
GUPTA: It is not the way Grey thought he would start his last season. But even after two concussions, he wants to play.
(On camera): You don't worry about that? Why not?
DIXON: I don't play the game scared, I guess.
GUPTA: It's your brain we're talking about.
DIXON: I know. I mean, it's a sport. There's a lot of risks, in everything, really.
GUPTA (voice-over): Grey, like so many other young football players, is willing to gamble his future on the game he loves.
Kevin Guesskoowitz is not. He is one of the country's leading concussion researchers and recipient of a prestigious $500,000 million McArthur Genius Grant to study head injuries.
KEVIN GUESSKOOWITZ, CONCUSSION RESEARCHER: I'm going to ask that when you leave this field that you never again use the word "ding" or "bell ringer." And if you hear a teammate using that, if you hear a coach using that, if you you're your athletic trainer using that, you say, you mean brain injury?
GUPTA: He travels the country educating everyone from the NFL to local high school players, parents and coacher on how to prevent head injuries.
(On camera): So it's helmets impacts telemetry? Is that --
GUPTA: Hit system?
GUESSKOOWITZ: Hit system.
GUPTA (voice-over): I met him at a nearby football safety clinic.
GUESSKOOWITZ: This shows six single access to Tellurometer in the helmets.
GUPTA (on camera): It's collecting the data and --
GUESSKOOWITZ: Extracting the data and it s all communicated through this receiver here. This would be set up on the sideline.
GUPTA: Let's try this. And I'm going to give it sort of a moderate hit here and see what happens. So.
GUESSKOOWITZ: So, yes, it's recorded up here at 23.6 G's of acceleration.
GUPTA (voice-over): He showed me how hard these hits really are.
GUESSKOOWITZ: He's going to withstand an impact of 157 Gs.
GUPTA (on camera): Oh, wow.
GUESSKOOWITZ: What we see is impacts to the crown of the head are about -- over three times more likely to result in an impact greater than 80 Gs.
GUPTA: Wow. And again, that's similar to a car accident.
GUESSKOOWITZ: Right. The question becomes, how many of those big impacts, and the subconcussive wounds, can a player withstand over a season or the course of a career until there's some cumulative damage.
GUPTA (voice-over): Subconcussive blows are the everyday hits, small hits. They don't cause concussions. An average high school player sustains more than 650 of these hits per season.
(On camera): You're talking about people when they're, you know, young, in their 40s, developing dementia, almost Alzheimer's like diseases, it could be a result of many smaller hits over their career.
GUESSKOOWITZ: A series of those subconcussive insults to the head that add up over time.
GUPTA (voice-over): For now, Grey Dixon is not thinking about that. After two weeks on the the sidelines, missing the first game, the new medical team finally clears Grey to play. He's back on the line of scrimmage. And they win. But will the Rampants stay in the championship hunt? And can they, and Grey, stay healthy?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good job, bud.
GUPTA (voice-over): As the fall leaves begin to change color in Greenville, North Carolina, Jaquan Waller's family and friends gather. They've been doing this every year since Jaquan died in 2008.
Markiest Waller still mourns the loss of his brother. It's a los that Connie and Ron Stiles know all too well.
CONNIE STILES, MOTHER: The ironic thing is, Nathan didn't start football until he was in seventh grade because he didn't want to get hurt.
GUPTA: Their 17-year-old son, Nathan, was a star running back for the Springhill Broncos in Kansas. It was October 28th, 2010, the last game of his senior year, the best game of his career. He ran for two touchdowns, 165 yards in just the first two quarters. And then two minutes before halftime, he walked off the field, screamed that his head hurt, and he collapsed. Nathan died early the next morning.
And like Jaquan, Nathan died of second impact syndrome. Earlier in the month at a homecoming game, he got a concussion. Everyone, including Nathan's doctor, thought it had healed.
(On camera): Did you get angry at all, Ron?
RON STILES, FATHER: No. No, I was just -- you're in shock.
DR. ANN MCKEE, DIRECTOR AND NEUROPATHOLOGIST, BRAIN BANK: I couldn't look at this book for a long time.
R. STILES: I know.
GUPTA (voice-over): The Stiles would find meaning in Nathan's tragic death because of this woman.
MCKEE: I think the last time you were here, we had maybe five brains.
GUPTA (on camera): Right.
MCKEE: And now we're up to -- we're in the 90s.
GUPTA (voice-over): Dr. Ann McKee runs the world's largest brain bank. It's a joint project between the Veterans Administration and Boston University. I first met her several years ago when she began finding evidence in the brains of deceased NFL players of unnatural tout protein deposits. Those are the same kinds of proteins found in Alzheimer's patients.
It's called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. It's a progressive degenerative disease which leads dementia in Alzheimer's like symptoms. But the difference is these symptoms are usually found in people in their 80s, not their 40s.
(On camera): What we're seeing here, is this definitely caused by blows to the head?
MCKEE: It's never been seen in any reported case, except in a case of repeated blows to the head.
GUPTA (voice-over): And that's exactly what the Stiles wanted to know when they donated Nathan's brain to McKee's center. Did repeated blows to the brain cause that kind of damage in young Nathan's brain? And the answer was yes. Under the microscope --
(On camera): That's really obvious, Dr. McKee.
(Voice-over): We saw tell-tale signs of the tout protein.
(On camera): Did this surprise you?
MCKEE: Yes, it definitely did. It can start very early?
GUPTA: It's amazing.
MCKEE: And --
GUPTA: Seventeen years old.
GUPTA (voice-over): And for the first time, Dr. McKee is about to show Nathan's parents what she found.
MCKEE: Hi. Ann McKee. How do you do?
R. STILES: Nice to meet you.
GUPTA: Nothing Ann McKee is about to tell them will bring Nathan back.
MCKEE: This is looking at it under the microscope and seeing all those dark brown.
GUPTA: But the Stiles hope that this rare gift would teach us more about brain concussions than we've ever known before.
R. STILES: We have all the confidence in the world there's something to be learned from it. It's in the right place here to do just that.
MCKEE: I think I want it to be my life's mission to make sure this doesn't happen to other kids.
GUPTA: McKee knows how much more vulnerable these young kids may be.
When the young developing brain is hit during football, no matter how hard, the brain is rocked. It's like an egg inside a shell. It stretches, the delicate fibers pulled, fluids violently sloshed around the brain, trying to absorb the blow.
MCKEE: Youth are at risk for any changes in that fluid balance, and they may not be able to handle it as well.
GUPTA (on camera): Sounds like you're saying they're more at risk than adults.
MCKEE: Oh, absolutely.
GUPTA (voice-over): And this is important, no matter how good a helmet is, it can't completely protect a brain from this sort of trauma.
MCKEE: Some of the helmets can slow down the impact, but I think, ultimately, a helmet won't completely solve this problem. I think we're going to have to do rule changes and game changes in addition to equipment changes.
GUPTA: Like penalties for leading with the head, banning helmet-to- helmet contact from practice, even moving forward the kickoff line to minimize collisions. McKee wants changes like these. And that's why people call her one of the football killers. Because they think if you're going to make these changes, you're going to change the game forever.
MCKEE: I'm a huge football fan. I grew up right outside of Greenbay and the Vince Lombardi area. So it's -- it's instilled in my DNA. I don't like seeing this happen to them. So I'm for changing whatever changes we need to make to keep these guys safe and healthy.
GUESSKOOWITZ: I would argue that it may need to become a softer game and a game where we can change some of the rules in order to preserve the game. Because there's this cloud hanging over the sport right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go, boy.
GUPTA: Back at that football safety clinic in North Carolina --
GUESSKOOWITZ: It's all about leading with the arms. The first point of contact --
GUPTA: Concussion researcher Kevin Guesskowitz agrees with McKee. But aside from those rule changes he drills players and coaches around the country on new ways to play. (On camera): So you talked about, you know, tackling with your hands, obviously not your head, tip of the sphere, but also just lots of awareness so you never take an unanticipated hit.
GUESSKOOWITZ: That's right. Simple lessons.
GUPTA (voice-over): Coach Lipe is now teaching these lessons as well.
LIPE: We've been talking about getting your helmet checked. What does getting your helmet checked means? That means you're to strap your helmet up. That's too lose.
GUPTA: After what happened to Jaquan and what he's learned since, Lipe has changed everything about the way he coaches.
LIPE: Now, this is live right here, but we don't leave the crown of our helmet and we stay up.
We don't do the contact at all. When we first got here, we were just knocking the snot out of each other. Do you know how fortunate we were not to have an issue then?
Good, good, good.
I want to take as much of that out of practice that I possibly can. We don't want to go face to face, we don't want to go head to head.
GUPTA: But it's an uphill battle. Getting players to change is tough. And it's not just the players who are resistant.
LIPE: When I talked to my parents about what we were trying to do, you know, some of them were actually concerned that they might have -- they might be at a disadvantage now, if we're not playing full speed. And I'm not worried about that. We've always played hard here.
GUPTA: Played hard, but now they're playing safe as well. Will it be enough to win their next game?
Homecoming, against their archrival, the same team they were playing when Jaquan Waller died.
LIPE: If you want your dreams and your goals to stay alive, we've got to do it tonight.
GUPTA: Can the Rampants win and make right what was so wrong years ago?
LIPE: Is everybody ready to go?
LIPE: Play for each other tonight, guys, all right? One, two, three.
GUPTA (voice-over): It's homecoming. The season is almost over. The Rampants are four and three. This game is crucial. A win will guarantee a trip to the state playoffs and a chance to win their fifth high school state championship.
LIPE: Just went straight down the field. You lost him --
GUPTA: But Coach Lipe knows it's not going to be easy. They've lost to rival Hoggard High for the past three years. A losing streak that began the day Jaquan Waller died in 2008.
(On camera): If you guys do well, is that going to help get you through this, this rough patch? Because it's been stuck around for a few years.
LIPE: These guys were freshmen that year. They were here. They spent time with Jaquan. They knew him. But, yes, I mean, it would be great. It's a huge goal for us.
GUPTA (voice-over): I find Grey Dixon right before the game. His head is healed.
(On camera): How big a deal is this game tonight?
DIXON: I mean, it could possibly be our last home game, so it's a pretty big deal.
GUPTA (voice-over): And on the field, athletic trainer Becky Grant.
(On camera): Is culture changing, do you think? I mean people starting to understand --
GRANT: Yes. Yes, you don't -- you don't hear, oh, he's just got a bell ringer, anymore. I think more people are noticing, more people are realizing how serious of an injury it could be.
GUPTA (voice-over): This season, athletic trainers like Becky have diagnosed more concussions than ever before in this camp, and that's good news, because fewer head injuries are going undiagnosed and untreated, like the ones that killed Jaquan Waller.
GRANT: It is a collision sport. Injuries are going to happen. But there's somebody there for that. You know? To hopefully, again, prevent or assess those major with injuries so that this they don't become catastrophic.
GUPTA: And so far, no severe head injuries. No cases of post concussion syndrome. A life-saving lesson for high school programs across the country. County doctor, Brock Neisler.
(On camera): Given all that you've seen, should a high school allow its students to play football unless they have those medical resources?
NEISLER: If it was my kid, I would be hesitant to have my kid play in an environment that's not properly supervised by an athletic trainer.
GUPTA: Should athletic trainers be at every practice and every game if you're playing high school football?
GUPTA: And it's true here. What about all the other high schools in the country?
LIPE: You got to find a way.
GUPTA (voice-over): For school superintendent Beverly Reap, it's been worth every penny.
REAP: I don't ever want to be at the helm and lose a child this way. We certainly want to be in a position to say we've done everything possible in our district.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is an important safety piece of legislation on behalf of these members and these families for America.
GUPTA: And now that North Carolina's governor signed a new concussion awareness law named after Jaquan Waller and Matthew Gfeller, who also died from a football head injury in 2008. The rest of North Carolina will be required to adopt many of the safety measures Reap's district adopted, and they're not alone. Thirty-five other states and the District of Columbia have anti-concussion legislation that they're hoping will make their children safer.
For Jaquan's brother, who was at the bill signing, it's a comforting legacy of a devastating tragedy.
WALLER: It's going to prevent a lot of people, a lot of athletes, a lot of families from going through the same thing that we had to go through with Jaquan's situation.
GUPTA: And when we checked back in with A.J. Flores, we're again reminded just how devastating concussions can be on the living.
FLORES: I didn't want to go to the hospital over a migraine, but they said that I needed to.
GUPTA: He's struggling now. His once mild headaches are often becoming debilitating migraines.
FLORES: It felt like I got hit, and I didn't get hit. Like, it was like a ringing, just like a pounding, like a bad, bad concussion, like one of the worst I've ever had, and it was just awful.
GUPTA: But despite the agony, he lives with the pain. He still has a job, he goes to college.
FLORES: I've grown a lot from it, you know. I've become -- I'm starting to become, hopefully, the man my parents want me to be one day. And this was a bump in the road, but it's a bump I've gotten through and I'm going to, you know, push forward through.
GUPTA: A.J.'s also still a football fan, especially at this crucial homecoming game against Hoggard. It was the last team Jaquan Waller ever played.
FLORES: Still hits us hard.
GUPTA (on camera): Still think about it a lot?
FLORES: All the time.
GUPTA: He was your good friend.
FLORES: Yes, good friend.
LIPE I do think about him, and I still have Jaquan's number in my phone. We try not to forget, but you do have to move on and we try to do things the best way we can now to keep our kids as safe as possible.
GUPTA (voice-over): With Jaquan on everyone's mind, the Rampants take to the field. With home field advantage, the Rampants play hard. Number 34, Grey Dixon, has an interception. And amazingly, they run away with it, a shutout, 21-0. They've finally beaten the team they lost so much to in 2008.
LIPE: I'll tell you what, I asked for a signature win, and that was nice right there.