Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stress Killer

While writing up the NFL Midseason Slant, I read on Twitter that Houston Texans' coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field and was taken off by stretcher. For the second time in a few days, a football coach is dealing with a serious health issue, the first being John Fox of the Denver Broncos. It's time for a side-quest, ladies and gentlemen. Achievement hunting = fun.

When you aren't the one in charge, you tend to see leaders as strong figures that handle the best and worst of people. You find yourself going: "Man, these guys are tough as nails," or "How do they keep going like this?" Beneath the facade of their leadership skills and their grit is something a little more serious--their health. While everything on the exterior seems unwavering, the interior may waver with the ebb and flow of the usual leadership duties. It's a known fact that people in charge often face the most amounts of stress and pressure. While the effects of stress may show in news reports and in press conferences, voice and outward appearance may not tell the whole story.

This past week, Denver Broncos' head coach John Fox was hospitalized for having heart attack-like symptoms. It has been announced that he will be undergoing an aortic valve replacement. Sunday night, Houston Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field as he and his team were leaving the field at halftime. While it hasn't been announced that he had a similar issue, it has been stated that he was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure.

When you hear these two reports, you tend to question how this all happens. They seem like relatively healthy guys, right? They don't seem to have any openly-known health problems. So what could be the issue? Let's put things into perspective here: they're head coaches for professional football teams. Their teams have been having issues on and off the field. They're stressed. Stress can hurt the insides and could actually cause heart problems. While I may be jumping to conclusions, it seems rather strange to have two cases like this happen in such a short spurt of time. The spotlight has been on the athletes for a very long time. It might be time to shift it to the coaches and officials. Why? Their jobs are stressful. Their jobs are giving them serious injuries on the inside.

What is this stress I'm talking about? I'll tell you about it. I survived college. I should know this business. Let's check the medical journal of Dr. AZ...
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. In fact, I am extremely clumsy with sharp objects.
Stress can be explained in several different ways. Simply put, it's any kind of pain or pressure placed upon an object. Stress can affect anything biologically, physiologically, and psychologically. It's like that horrible video game boss that takes fifty different forms and it gets stronger once you get it to a quarter health. Basic symptoms of stress include irritability, inability to sleep, mood swings, appetite changes, troubles with digestion, and changes in blood pressure. Stress, biologically and psychologically, can produce adrenaline or the "fight or flight" response in the brain. Yes, highly stressful times could either make you crash or have the capability to lift a car (dead serious). While adrenaline rushes can be beneficial at times, other chemicals produced by stress could disrupt bodily functions and adversely affect the immune and nervous systems.

When a coach handles issues with teammates or even the media, there is some amount of stress that comes with the territory. How the coach approaches it could determine the amount of stress that comes with it. Age and experience may be a good thing here, but you also have the problem of these external stimuli being overbearing to unnecessary proportions.

Calling a game isn't an easy job, either. When you have a professional game in your hands, no matter how good you are at your job, there is lots of stress. While the best of them handle it well, high-pressure situations take it's toll when least expected. When you have a lack of diet and exercise along with these stressful environments, you have a recipe for disaster at the front door.

In fact, MLB umpire Wally Bell, aged 48, died of an apparent heart attack in mid-October. His last appearance was working the NLDS series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. With that said, he was the first active MLB umpire to die since the mid-1960's. At the age of 34 in 1999, he underwent quintuple bypass surgery to clear two fully-blocked arteries among other blockages, and returned three months later to officiate baseball games. While he continued his career after the fact, it is a tragedy to hear about a case such as his. He fought back after having severe heart trouble in his early 30's, and nearly fifteen years later he passes from a similar issue.

I could be making a mountain out of a molehill, but we've had two scares and a death in the American sports realm involving people in sports who weren't athletes. Do we have a legitimate problem here? Yes. I think we do. Although coaches and officials may have a decent diet with some exercise thrown in from time to time, stress can always throw a monkey wrench into your life.

Stress kills, ladies and gentlemen. I don't think that's a strange thing to point out.

I'm going to suggest this. What I say might not have a huge amount of weight in it, but it should be considered, as we've had a problem in the "it comes in threes" category. It should become a standard to have coaching staffs and officials take stress tests and get blood work done to check their overall physical health during the season. If this happens, this could actually cut down on any signs of future health problems, such as heart attack, stroke, or even panic/anxiety attacks. In Wally Bell's earlier case in '99, he might have been able to find his problem sooner and may not have had as major of a surgery as he did. While you might not always be able to pinpoint a heart attack or stroke, it can be avoided by certain dietary/medicinal regimens. It's 2013. I'm pretty sure we can cut down on major health risks by now. It can be done.

Aside from guys like Mike Tomlin (head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and the hiring of Brad Ausmus as new head coach of the Detroit Tigers, you will very rarely find a head coach that is under the age of 45. You don't often realize that you have some--excuse the expression--really old fogies running these teams. When a team is struggling, management gets rather stressful. If one cares enough, that coach will trudge through six-foot deep mud during a torrential downpour to get the team out of a rut, and it's going to hurt. Heck, some of the "younger guys" look like old men due to the effects of stress. We have some guys who have found the fountain of youth (i.e. Philadelphia Eagles' Chip Kelly is 49...and...yeah...), but's what on the inside that counts here.

I'll admit it: While concussions, lower body injuries, and PED usage in athletes are major issues at hand, we tend to throw the health concerns of other people on the back burner. We tend to stop thinking about the other people involved in the sport, such as coaches, staff members, and officials. Their jobs aren't exactly a cakewalk either. While they aren't busting themselves out on the field physically, the stress they undergo does more damage than one may think. I hate reading about heart attacks and strokes, I really do. If anything, I'd like to read less about it and see sports organizations put more focus on the leaders and officials. We've done so much for the players; let's start seeing more done for the unsung heroes. They need attention too, you know.


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