After watching the movie “Concussion,” a Pennsylvania football star turned down a bevy of scholarship offers over concerns about his long-term health.
Mars (Pa.) Area senior tight end and defensive end John Castello rejected offers from more than a dozen Football Championship Subdivision schools, including traditional powers James Madison and New Hampshire, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Castello arrived at his decision upon seeing the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, whose 2002 discovery of a degenerative brain disease caused by the sort of repetitive head trauma that is common in football was portrayed by Will Smith in a film released this past December.
“The head injuries were a huge reason for my decision,” Castello told the Post-Gazette. “I’ve liked both football and basketball for some time. I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do. Then, that movie ‘Concussion’ came out and some interviews came out. I watched one interview with Dr. Omalu where he was talking about [former Steelers center] Mike Webster. After watching that, I said it’s not worth it.
“Yeah, it would be free college. But your whole life is in jeopardy. You’re putting your body in harm’s way every single week. It was definitely a tough choice, but I think I made the right choice.”
“Concussion” was filmed in Pittsburgh, where Omalu’s autopsy of Webster led to the discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) at the University of Pittsburgh.
Some 25 miles north of the city, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound Castello earned First Team All-Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association honors on both sides of the football for a Mars Area team that reached the WPIAL semifinals this past fall.
Also a basketball standout, Castello did not own a single basketball scholarship offer when he informed football suitors he would not be accepting their scholarships this past December. Since then, though, he’s averaged a double-double for the Fightin’ Planets, surpassing 1,000 points and rebounds for his career to earn a basketball scholarship offer from nearby Division II Shippensburg University, according to the Post-Gazette.
It’s a remarkable decision for a high school football player to make, raising the obvious question: Will more prep players choose health over a college scholarship? Given the pressures both financially and socially, it cannot be easy leaving a six-figure scholarship on the table, especially for teenagers who so often see themselves as invincible.
Castello was fortunate enough to earn a basketball scholarship after turning down his football offers, but not everyone will be so lucky. Still, Castello hopes his decision — made in one of the nation’s most heralded football hotbeds — will make others think twice.
“I have two sisters and a brother, and one of my sisters is in college now, so it’s not like my parents have all this money just to pay anything for college,” he added. “I know it’s unusual and strange, and some people might look at me and say some things. But maybe I can influence some other kids to pick basketball over football, just because of the injuries.”
Castello’s decision comes nearly a year after promising 24-year-old San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland retired from the NFL due to similar concerns about his health.