Hits in back-to-back games change player’s life

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OAK CREEK, Wis. (AP) — Hold an empty toilet paper roll to your eye and peer through it. Your view is confined to what’s at the end of a narrow tunnel smudged by shadows.

For almost eight years now, ever since he took a ding to the side of the head in a Division III college football game, that’s how Justin Greenwood has seen the world. His thick glasses with their prisms on the sides help, giving him peripheral vision — “They’re like rearview mirrors on your car.” But, at 29, he is legally blind.

He golfs and skis, but cannot drive a car. He travels on his own, but uses a cane to help him navigate the uneven terrain and obstacles in his way when he goes somewhere unfamiliar. He reads books and works puzzles, but struggles with his memory.

And his dreams of playing professional football or using that marketing degree he was working toward when he got hurt are over, replaced by a desire to protect other youngsters from a similar fate.

“What’s good about me is I can laugh about it. A lot of people can’t accept the life they have now,” said Greenwood, an eternal optimist with an infectious smile. “A big part of it is acceptance with this life. I have to accept my challenges and my difficulties and my inability to do the same things people around me are doing.

“It’s challenging, but it’s doable.”

It’s a situation that also is preventable.

Greenwood has become an ardent advocate of brain injury awareness since he got hurt, and is the spokesman for the new “Play Smart Wisconsin” campaign. While he’d never tell anybody not to play football — or any other sport, for that matter — he hopes his experience will teach kids why it’s important to be honest about injuries as soon as they happen.

He also wants to make sure coaches are teaching proper technique and following guidelines that keep players with head injuries off the field until they’re cleared by a medical professional. There needs to be adequate medical staff at all games, too, so kids who do get hurt get immediate treatment.

“It’s about what you’re going to do after you’re done,” Greenwood said. “When you’re playing ball, it’s just a short time in your life. But a brain injury can affect you for the rest of your life.”

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