BY FLOYD WEDDERBURN/ I was asked recently if I thought Vicks and McCoy were somehow prolonging their concussions because there’s no hope of a playoff berth this season.
First, I thought about it and wanted to respond like a fan, but I quickly remembered getting blind-sided by another player, so I responded like a player who has had quite a few concussions in his day. Are you kidding me?!?! This thing is more serious now than it was when I played.
Most players in the NFL are hard workers and if given a chance, would try to be on the field for every play of every game. However, more players are taking concussions more seriously now than ever.
At one point in my career, if I told a coach I was seeing stars and/or feeling a little dizzy, I would get a stare-down like you wouldn’t believe. I would even get a few displeased looks from a teammate or two. As if to say, the nerve of me to be concerned about my health and talk to someone who was supposed to be a concerned adult was mindboggling. Let’s just say it happened more often than you would expect.
However, under the circumstances of being a taller-than-average lineman and being in a sport where leverage is key, my head was always in the middle of everything and concussion became a part of my daily life.
A concussion isn’t what it was 10 years ago. Then, it was more of a reward for being a warrior and having the ability to go through practice with a terribly headache, feeling dizzy, or even on the verge of throwing up. I thought if I wasn’t knocked out cold, why bother the coaches or trainers? I would probably just get a pat on the back anyway.
One of the reasons I enjoyed playing football was derived from small pickup games in the middle of a road. I was asked if I wanted to play tackle instead of touch. I shouted out, “Tackle!” faster than “touch” could even come out of my mouth. I was so happy to throw my young, unbreakable body all over the place. It was the first time I ever felt like a machine, running through people, tackling on hard ground and feeling unstoppable. All I wanted to do was hit and hit again. I never thought to put on a helmet despite the danger involved.
One of my favorite drills was Man in the Middle. One at time, we would tee off and try to knock the snot out of the guy in the middle. His job was to hold his ground. Another would be the Oline-Dline one-on-one drill. That was a simple strategy to get to the quarterback at will. No one ever stopped to think about the long-term effects that these simply thought-up drills could have on a player.
My first concussion was on impact. I literally saw stars and my head felt like I was inside the Liberty Bell and it wouldn’t stop ringing.
When I was playing in the NFL, I couldn’t believe how fast and strong the guys were. Given the size and speed of every athlete and the severity of every impact, every hit and every blow was felt. Every 9 on 7 and every scrimmage felt worse than the last.
This leads me to believe that every year new players are coming in bigger, stronger, and faster, with catlike ability, making that impact more catastrophic. All players are susceptible because of the continuous plays and the rigorous pounding. Even though it doesn’t look that way on TV, the small blows to the head could mean ill for a player in a split sec. This happens much more quickly now than it did 10 years ago.
We’re living in a better day where teammates, friends and family are well aware of the symptoms and the severity of the matter. Hopefully, this will lead them to report such symptoms to team physicians and athletic trainers who could deal with the matter, or at least I hope so. Therefore the next time you decide to ask an ex-NFL player about concussions, keep in mind he just may not remember.