Pearland grad Jarrod Cooper's post-NFL days filled with pain

PEARLAND — Jarrod Cooper played eight seasons in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers and the Oakland Raiders as a safety primarily known for his fearless work on special teams. Cooper played in the 2004 Super Bowl before signing with the Raiders. Before the 2008 season he began to feel the effects of his lingering injuries which led to him retiring.

Less than a decade later, Cooper says he now spends up to 18 days a month bedridden with symptoms of CTE, the brain disease that the NFL finally acknowledged is linked to football-related concussions head trauma.

In a shocking interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Cooper says he once spent 33 consecutive days in bed, and has struggled with depressions and seizures.

Cooper graduated from Pearland in 1996 after earning all-state honors with the Oilers. He then played at Kansas State before being drafted by Carolina in the fifth round of the 2001 draft.

Via the San Jose Mercury News: "I played it to hurt people - not on purpose - but you go as hard as you can all of the time and whatever comes from the collision comes from it.... You know you are going to get a concussion; you know you are going to get hurt."

Cooper's physicians determined that he likely suffers from CTE or frontal lobe dementia, and he will donate his brain for medical research. Despite his current condition, Cooper says he'd still decide to play football professionally if he could go back in time and would even allow his children to play the game, but that there needs to be an emphasis on player safety.

"I don't think players should retire at 30 and then be in bed half of the rest of their life - no matter how much money you make.... If I was 7 now and my mom was watching this, I would not have played football."

After his symptoms increased following his retirement, Cooper consulted physicians who told him he suffered from frontal lobe dementia or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a brain disease that has been connected to repeated blows to the head. CTE symptoms include depression, memory loss and progressive dementia.

Cooper told the Mercury News he reminded a neurologist that a CTE diagnosis couldn't be determined until after death.

"Yeah, but you don't have to be a dummy to see it," the neurologist replied.

Despite his post-career struggles, Cooper said he would permit his son to play football, but not in the all-out, reckless manner in which he played.

Cooper wrote the following: "When I first heard about head injuries and the long-term effect on players, I didn't give it a second thought. To be honest, I knew that I would suffer from something when I was in my 50s and 60s, mainly because I personally know several older players from all different generations that are suffer now from the effects from the game of football. I have been affected in such a way that I have to share my story hoping that it will help players in the future.

I sat and really gave thought to what could be done to help the affects of head injuries in the game of football. I have come to the conclusion that not much can be done. I wish there were but there is no way around it. Sure, the NFL can put a stop to the big hits and even control who and how players hit and tackle each other. But from start to finish, the game of football is based around hitting, and it will always be part of football no matter what.

Many people ask me if I regret playing. I have to laugh and tell them as long as I am buried with my Super Bowl ring, it was all worth it. It truly takes a different kind of person to make it in the NFL. In a player's mind, he knows the entire time he is playing football that his mind, body and soul will never be the same, but we decide to continue to play.

Over the years I have saved my money and have become just a little greedy, if you will. While laying in bed with migraines it made me realize that you can't take it with you. I discovered something about myself while laying in what I thought was my death bed at the time, and that is the only thing that truly makes me happy is helping other people.

You most definitely will see Jarrod Cooper in the near future working with Oakland's animals and the Oakland Children's Hospital, trying to make a difference. The greatest thing to come out of all this is I have learned to live and have decided to dedicate the rest of my life to helping others."