Concussions are a scary thing. How scary? Well, football participation is down across the board, parents are worried about head injuries for children, and Luke Kuechly – arguably the best middle linebacker in football – has missed three straight games recovering from a concussion.
On the one hand, it’s good that Carolina is playing it safe with Kuechly. On the other hand, what if he retired just as fellow Southwest Ohio native Chris Borland did? Would that scare people? Would that scare the NFL?
“No, absolutely not,” former NFL linebacker and current Houston 610 radio host Ted Johnson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “It’s not even a blip on their radar. It’s not. That’s the God honest truth. Do you know why, my friend? The fans. God bless them, but fans are fans. There isn’t an outrage from fans. You don’t hear fans being outraged as these players are being put out there with concussions. Whenever I came out with my story – and this was in 2005, 2006 when I did an article in the New York Times talking about my issues, and my problems. And everybody then – not knowing anything about concussions like we know now – said, ‘Well, you know what you’re getting into. You know the risks involved in football.’ Yeah, to a point. But I didn’t know I may be doing damage to my brain long-term by playing the game. So the NFL isn’t worried about it because there’s no backlash from fans.”
Johnson, 42, won three Super Bowl titles with the New England Patriots before retiring in the mid-2000s. The headaches came almost immediately.
“It’s more than just forgetting your keys or remembering people’s names,” Johnson said of brain trauma. “It’s the shift in your behavior: depression and anxiety and all that stuff. But back then, I didn’t really know any better. All I knew was when I retired in 2005 is that my head hurt and I didn’t feel like I was the same guy anymore. It really wasn’t until 2007, 2008 that they discovered CTE. . . . If I put myself in today’s NFL knowing what these guys know now, it would be harder for me to play the game because I know every time I get that feeling – getting my bell rung, losing my balance, the vision being blurred and all that goes along with that feeling – (it’s) doing damage to me potentially long-term. So there would be more of a fear piece if I had to play the game now than I did then – because I didn’t know any better back then.”
Now he does. So do parents.
“The biggest impact of making people more aware (of head injuries) is it’s really had an impact on the lower levels,” Johnson said. “Moms, dads, parents are more nervous about their kids playing football because of what they hear about the NFL players and the problems they’re having. That’s where it’s really had the most impact. But the NFL office – and to some degree the NFLPA, the union – it’s not going to be an issue for them because the fans don’t care. ‘Just show me my football. I don’t want to know what’s behind the curtain. I don’t even want to talk about my game being threatened and maybe losing my game because of something like this. Just have my football and I don’t want to worry about it.’ So to answer your question, I don’t think they even look at it as an issue at all.”