SOUTH BEND — In a statement issued through a family friend Tuesday, the family of Corwin Brown thanked friends, former teammates, coaches and police who helped save his life.
"Corwin inflicted the most serious harm to himself and his family with a gunshot wound, but thankfully, the bullet missed all vital organs,” the statement read. “He finally cried for help, surrendered and prayed for forgiveness."
The Brown family also said they believe Corwin is suffering from symptoms similar to those experienced by the late Notre Dame and NFL player Dave Duerson, who had a disease as the result of repeated blows to the head and committed suicide.
The Brown family says Corwin returned “from the NFL not trusting, suspicious, distant, gloomy, exhausted and depressed."
The symptoms described by Brown's family are not uncommon. Repeated concussions and head trauma have become a widespread problem in every level of football.
Doctors and coaches said the only way to prevent concussions or head trauma is to simply avoid the sport altogether. We know that's unrealistic, but doctors say paying attention to symptoms may actually stop the problems before they become life-threatening.
From tackling to touchdowns, the possibility of getting hurt in football is raising red flags.
"By nature, it's a violent sport," said Antown Jones, Washington High School football coach.
"In some players, the head injuries over and over and over again do cause some long-term cognitive deficits," said Dr. Linda Mansfield, the associate director of sports medicine for The Memorial Sports Medicine Institute.
Those deficits may have caused Duerson to commit suicide in February. Studies show he had brain damage from repeated blows to his head.
Family members donated Duerson's brain to Boston University for research, hoping to help other athletes who have also suffered repeated concussions.
And now the family of former Notre Dame football coach and NFL player Corwin Brown said he might be suffering from the same disease as Duerson.
"If they're not honest with their symptoms or approach a trainer that can help them, then they are taking a big risk with their lives," Mansfield said.
Mansfiled specializes in head trauma. For every game and every practice, she has her eye on the Washington High School football team — monitoring their every injury.
“Usually the symptoms are so subtle you really don't notice them," she said.
And that is why football players in the South Bend school district must undergo pre-season concussion testing. Coach Jones said this allows doctors to monitor players throughout the season. If the player suffers any type of head injury, they can compare before and after results.
Jones said he doesn't want to scare his players, but said taking an injury seriously is crucial.
"What you have to understand is football, at some point, is going to end in your life and you still have the rest of your life to live,” he said. “And that’s more important — keeping those brain cells right and being able to think and function in society.”
Any contact sport could have the same effect on its players. Dr. Mansfield encourages athletes and families to pay to attention to signs of dizziness and loss of memory. Ignoring symptoms may lead to permanent head trauma.
Mansfield said it's sometimes up to the family to recognize and report abnormal behavior.