High school football team to get new helmets
After a fundraising campaign, the Steamboat Springs High School football team will have 63 new helmets and 10 reconditioned ones in the fall.
The move is in the name of safety.
“The best and safest helmet is the helmet that fits,” Steamboat football coach Lonn Clementson said.
In addition to obtaining new helmets, Clementson said, the team is taking every precaution to make the sport safe for his players, including looking at new chin straps, mouth guards and face masks as well as focusing several workouts on strengthening the core neck muscles.
B&K Distributing also donated 40 Guardian Caps to the program. The caps are a soft outer shell that goes over helmets and reduces the impact of helmet collisions.
They will be worn in practice.
Steamboat Springs Larry Kaminski paused as he thought about what the outcome likely would have been if he hadn’t gotten help.
The former Broncos player always had a temper, but this was different.
There was a buzzing in his head. The mood swings were greater. He wanted to be alone and isolated. One minute he’d be fine, the next, his blind rage would seep through.
He drank and drank and drank to get away from the problems.
Finally, the anger and drinking had caught up with him.
He got in a fight and was arrested in 2008. He knew he had to do something. His head wasn’t right.
He found the Amen Clinic in Newport Beach, Calif., and had his head examined. There was severe damage to the frontal lobes of his brain.
“I was really glad Larry came in,” said Dr. Kristen Willeumier, the director of research at the Amen Clinic who has led a groundbreaking study investigating the long-term effects of concussions on NFL players.
With a visit to the clinic, Kaminski likely saved his own life.
“If I hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t be talking,” he said. “Several years ago, I was just walking and just thinking about suicide. I could just feel the world coming to an end. I was a pain in the butt to everybody. I couldn’t deal with everyday life.”
A throwback era
Kaminski, who started B&K Distributing in Steamboat Springs, played for the Denver Broncos from 1966 to 1973.
In 1967, he was an all-AFL selection. In those days, concussions didn’t exist.
“They were dings,” he said. “They would give you a shot of ammonia in your nose. There were times at the end of the game where my jaw was so sore that I couldn’t bite down. But that was the kind of thing you dealt with.”
He, like others in his era, played with injuries. He broke his leg twice and one time played a whole half with a broken leg.
Eventually, his playing days were numbered. He came back to Steamboat and started B&K.
He started driving a truck in 1994. Even then, he said he needed to get away and wanted to be isolated. He left for Port Gamble, Wash., in the late 1990s.
“When you take a look at it as a kid, anger is anger,” said Kevin Kaminski, Larry’s son. “The guy was pretty hostile at times, but you have no idea what that ranges from.”
The move to Washington didn’t help.
The buzzing in his head continued, as did the outbursts and drinking.
“It was like electricity in my head,” Larry said.
Larry Kaminski considers himself one of the lucky ones.
Former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson killed himself in 2011, shooting himself in the chest so his brain could be saved for research.
Duerson had a lot of the symptoms similar to those Kaminski experienced. He was volatile and wanted to be a loner.
Duerson’s brain showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, meaning the brain tissue was severely damaged.
The recent suicide of Junior Seau, one of the most respected players of his generation, has sent shock waves throughout the league.
“When it happens to someone like Junior, we’ve had a bunch of current and recently retired players calling and coming to our clinics,” Dr. Willeumier said.
Kaminski now is part of a pair of lawsuits. He was one of the original filers in a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming the NFL knew about and covered up the effects of head injuries.
Currently, there are more than 1,000 former players with similar suits against the NFL.
Kaminski also is part of a workers’ compensation suit against the Broncos.
The Broncos released a statement saying, “The matter is being handled by our legal counsel, and we are hopeful it is resolved as soon as possible.”
Regardless, Kaminski’s work with the Amen Clinic has helped. Willeumier said the focus is on rehabilitating the brain. She works on a full-body approach of losing weight and using supplements and a brain- and memory-enhancing drug that helps bring antioxidants and blood to the brain.
So far, the results have been encouraging.
“I would say there is a handful of players that if they didn’t come to see us, they may not be around,” she said. “We’re showing rehabilitation is possible. We’re really progressive in the way we treat patients. Bottom line is we want them to have a better quality of life.”
Willeumier said the biggest thing is for players and former players to search for help, much like Kaminski did.
Kaminski, now 67, said he’s enjoying life and has worked to repair relationships.
“There is no doubt about it. He’s a lot mellower of a person,” Kevin Kaminski said. “But he was at the forefront of jumping in front of it. He definitely was out there.”
Like others, Larry Kaminski will donate his brain to Boston University for research purposes.
Although there still are trying days, he said things are better.
“It brings in reality that other guys have it,” he said. “I’ve been lucky to have support to get through it. Because of their pride, others didn’t do that, and it consumed them. But this isn’t about Larry Kaminski. This is about a situation that’s evolved. The NFL needs to address it. And not just in publicity stunts but reality.”
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com