Your Brain Health Episode 17

Introduction: This is Your Brain Health with noted Neuroscientists, Dr. Kristen Willeumier. Your Brain Health explores strategies to maximize your cognitive functions through life. Here’s Dr. Kristen Willeumier.

Dr. Kristen Willeumier: We’re going to continue our conversation with Merrill Hodge about his new book, Brainwashed. Who had this experience with concussions, you had the experience using the impact test and then you went to now take this journey on helping to transform youth football and make it a safer game for kids. So, you know, I think that’s part of your story. And can you share with us, how did you end up testifying before Congress in 2009?

Merrill Hodge: What actually started in 2003 I had been running football camps. I’ve been coaching youth football since 1991. When my son wanted to start playing at age seven, here’s what I got excited about. I can get to create a better, safer environment for him. I’m going to establish a head trauma protocol, which I did. The way we practice is going to be different. We practice twice a week and we had one live drill contact, one drill that was live for 15 minutes once every two weeks. And we played on Saturday. Okay. People act like youth football. There’s 52 weeks in a year. People act like you play at 52 weeks out of the year. Our season is 10 weeks old. Okay. We practice twice a week, played on Saturday. We had no live contact other than 15 minutes once every two weeks. And that was structured as in a football true environment. I established my kids that had trauma protocol that I was going to implement, and I established that and started execute that in my practices.


It became part of what we did in our youth community. And then I kind of took those principles really to USA football. That’s what becomes heads up football. We give now direction to youth football certifications and help people learn how to practice, drills to do, protocols to follow. And that really led me to speak to Congress. Cause you got to remember in 2009 if you go back and look, we’re doing stuff in the NFL and the NCAA, but 99% of our football players are age eight to 18 and we’re doing nothing there? So I really as a parent first and foremost, and a coach as somebody who’s lived football for 44 years in every aspect, I went to them really with the counsel. Let’s get a protocol for, actually I wanted it in all sports, but I went to specifically with football because I had talked to a lot of the greatest minds in this world and I’d asked them, this was before even I started my protocol in 2003. I like what would be like a staple and a standard we could do to make it safer and better for our kids if they got a concussion.


I don’t care what it is because it can still happen outside of sports. It happen in your backyard, recess or lunch at school. You know, you can slip in a shower, which happened to Beau, my son, his first concussion, not on a football field. And it really, it was pretty much unanimous. Everybody would say if they don’t, A, don’t let them return to that environment and B, don’t let him play the next week. So here’s what I would do. I removed him, they didn’t play the next week. So they had a two week window if you will. And that, and that’s actually pretty clear to this day, but still, you know, obviously it’s much more detail. There’s more treatments and evaluation process that they do now, but what it did is it took you out of the danger zone and that’s what was my thought process. And that’s 2003 you always got to remember where you were, cause people say why weren’t you doing okay. That’s the information I had 2003. Okay. It’s much better today. 2018, yes.


But that still pretty much a staple and a standard that we try to function around. The key is removing them. Don’t let them return to play. I mean that’s just one of the most important things you can do. Make sure they’re properly recovered before they return to play. And in the book we give you a lot of options. I mean a lot of places to go to get treatment and therapy, which is something that I don’t think a lot of people know about Kristen, that hopefully this podcast will help people. There is treatment and therapy for people who’ve had concussions, who have post concussion syndrome, and it is really exciting, and the stuff that can be done and how really awesome the brain is. And how repairs and how healthy it can become. So we need to be very excited about the environment that exists today versus doom and gloom.

Host: I love you for that. And in the book you state, and I quote, in the NFL, the idea of being tough means that you kept quiet about an injury even when it’s severe. So I love how you share that message to the kids. You can be tough and smart at the same time. So you literally tell kids and teach them that it’s being smart. If you have a concussion to step out. And you mentioned you have this iron clad rule that you establish for the kids if they suffered a head trauma that they do not get to play, that it was a non negotiable. And one of my favorite parts in the book is, you know, how did the parents respond to your rules?

Merrill Hodge: Listen, this happened twice. Okay. Once at age 13, once at age 14. Okay. This is when it happens, which is usually what happens cause you hit puberty and the impact is just greater than it is from seven to 11. So every parent, I mean every mother came up to me on the day on the next week when we were playing, and their kids couldn’t play. And they’re saying, Oh he looks so good. He’s been running around and he’s so excited. He really liked to play. He looks so good. And I’m like, that’s beautiful. That’s exactly what I want to hear. I’m doing the best thing for you. You know now, what’s unfortunate Kristen, which is just, I mean we could do a hundred podcasts on this, which is really sad, is that now it’s the opposite. Parents are ripping their kids out of sports and they’re ripping them out because something they’ve heard said or seen, but it’s you ask them what they know and they can’t answer that and I’m like, wow, that’s, that’s a travesty that we’re robbing our kids of opportunities to help develop them and help them grow in so many ways in sports because of the lack of information.


That’s really, one of the major reasons I wrote this book is for families to give you all of the evidence, all of the scientific evidence and proof of the truth about the CTE pattern that you hear about. You know, what does it really cause and where we are with the truth of it. And parents shouldn’t be having the fear and the scare that they have right now if they understood the whole truth, you know now how they, what choices they want to make. That’s up to them. It’s not me to make that choice, but at least we give them everything so that they can make the choice that fits their family.

Host: Well, and I think that’s, you know, sort of in wrapping this up, you wrote this book with your coauthor Dr. Cummings who is a neuropathologist over at Boston university. And I like how you explain why we should be cautious and maybe have a professional skepticism about the research that’s being presented and you know, how the media is presenting it to the world. So, you know, am I accurate in describing it in that way? You really wanted to make sure people had a fair sort of unbiased understanding of the research and with the help of Dr. Cummings, you’re able to present that in this book.

Merrill Hodge: Yeah. Kristen, I was no different than any other parent out there. Aside from listen, I have lot, probably a lot more experience in playing, I mean I’m in NFL environment, youth football environment, you know, I’ve been doing it for years and years. I got thousands and thousands of kids, kids now that have kids playing youth football. I mean talking about how crazy that is when you see kids grow up. The headlines didn’t make sense to me, but I don’t understand or didn’t. I didn’t have access to the science papers. That’s what I had to look at. Well, once I started to read the science papers and I had Dr. Cummings for your point, meeting him, have him explain what the science really said because sometimes it can be very difficult, but if you look at the conclusion of all science papers, you pretty much get the synopsis. When I started seeing words like caution in the science paper, must be used. You cannot use this to give any sense. I’m paraphrasing right now, but the word caution, I’m not paraphrasing. That’s in a lot of the science papers. You cannot use this to give any sense of what the disease is or isn’t in all levels of sports. Okay. That’s in the science paper, but then you see the article that was written off of that science paper and there’s quotes from the person who wrote the paper saying this is clear evidence that the disease is much more severe than we thought. I’m like, Whoa, time out.

Host: You’re referring to the media. So they’ll take a science journal article and then present it into the mainstream media. And that’s the piece that really you sort of get more passionate about cause you feel that sometimes things are taken out of context.

Merrill Hodge: Well not, yes and no. The person who is quoted in there, let’s take the 110 out of 111 brains. Okay. That everybody has talked unseen about that, you know, came from Boston University, Ann McKee. And then the headline of the 110, 111 brains having CT, now the science paper says caution. You cannot use this to give any sense of degree of disease, basically. That’s what the science paper said. That’s what Ann McKee helped write. When Ann McKee is quoted in the science paper as saying this is clear evidence that this disease is much more prevalent than ever thought, okay that is not the media taken that and turning that around. That’s a quote from the person who wrote the science paper and I just got, I lost my, I lost my breath when I read that and compared them. And that’s just one of just a litany of things that has been driven in the media. That is actually false. For example, and you can at testify to this, in all of those brains there was some other, over half of them had another type of brain disease. You know this in science, you can’t isolate one disease over the other, which was done in that article.

Host: Well I think they have the presence of other neuropsychiatric issues, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, some had Alzheimer’s disease. So there’s other co-morbid pathologies.

Merrill Hodge: So my point is how can you put the headline, CPE, how do you, how can it not be 110 out of 111 brains had other degenerative diseases, which is really what should have been said to be completely balanced, and fair. That’s what the science tells you. How do you isolate CPE that particular one disease from all the others that you just mentioned? How is that possible?

Host: That’s what I love about the book because you and Dr. Cummings go into more details on that and looking at the specific studies and that’s why I really would encourage anybody who’s listening to the podcast to go and pick up Merrill’s book, Brainwashed, The Bad Science Behind CTE and the Plot to Destroy Football. Merrill, when does the book come out?

Merrill Hodge: Actually October 23rd. It’ll be out. We launch the 23rd. But people can go to Amazon. We have a website that’ll help people as well. You go to Amazon, order the book and you know, listen, if you’re a parent, if you’re in sports even I had a concussion, it would serve you well to read it because what it does too, is it empowers you with information to go get help too, if you need it. But it gives you a way to search out what all the facts are and then, then you weigh them out, you know? And like I’ve told Dr. Cummings, listen, the whole goal from this thing, like I wrote the book, I paid to write the book. Nobody gave me any money to write the book about doing this for the NFL. I’m not doing this for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears. I’m doing it for families. I’m doing it for people, that ask the kind of people that run up to me all the time going, my son just had a concussion and my daughter had a concussion, they’re going to need a CT. And I’m like, well, why would you think that? Well, I saw it and I’m like, ah. And I’m just like, wow, you mean?


Oh, that’s just, you know, this is sad and sick cause you know what parents should be excited that their kids get to play right now in an environment where we do something about an injury. We didn’t do anything for nearly 90 years just in football, but all sports. And I’m like, wow. But then I start thinking from their perspective like, geez, they see the headlines. That’s all they see. They don’t know what I know. They don’t know great minds like yours, Dr. Cummings, Julian Bells, Dr. Maroon Lily Hasaradi in Canada. I can keep naming them on and on where I have went, talked to, sat down, I’ve sat and watched people cut brains. Literally watched them, how they work their craft, learn so much from that perspective and so many things that I’m like, wow, what people don’t know. How can I help them with that? They don’t have time to do what I do. So that’s really what drove me to do this book so that they had those resources to at least help them make choices.

Host: Oh, I love that. That’s why I love you. You’re so passionate about this topic and I’m so honored to have had you on today on Your Brain Health to speak about your book. It’s clear you care about health, football, kids making football safer for kids and seeking the truth regarding CTE and the impact of the research findings that have been in the media. I respect and appreciate you and your perspective and wanting to keep kids in athletics while also striving to make the game as safe as possible so kids don’t get hurt. So I thank you for coming on the show today. I think Dr. Cummings for his perspective as well in your book and I would love to have you back to talk more about football and all the great things you’re doing.

Merrill Hodge: Kristen, I would love it. Thank you for the time and anytime you want to do it and we have time, we’ll do it. Okay.

Host: Oh, you’re the best. And Merrill, where can people find you?

Merrill Hodge: Well they can find me at and go to that’ll give you all the information that you need. And hopefully if there’s not something there, there’s parts of the website for you to respond and ask questions and we surely will try to get to them as quickly as possible and get you the information needed.

Host: Excellent. Well it’s a great book. I read it in two days. It’s loaded with information and even at the end you go into different ways that we can help to treat concussions, the multidisciplinary approach using nutritional and lifestyle modifications and nonpharmacological approaches. And you talk about improvements in helmet technology. So there’s a lot in this book and I really encourage you to go and get it. So thank you again Merrill, and I will look forward to talking to you soon, my friend.

Merrill Hodge: You bet you. Thanks Kristen.

Host: All right, bye bye.

Conclusion: You’ve been listening to Your Brain Health with Dr. Kristen Willeumier. For more information or to contact Dr. Willeumier, visit That’s D, R, W, I, L, L, E, U, M, I, E,