They’re big. They’re fast. They’re strong. And you can see something else in today’s NFL players: they’re scared.
Scared about what football might be doing to their brains. Scared about a possible lifetime of migraine headaches, light sensitivity, memory problems and dementia from all the blows to the head they’ve absorbed in this most brutal of sports.
Did you see Haloti Ngata’s revealing comments to reporter Childs Walker at baltimoresun.com and in today’s Baltimore Sun?
“It makes you think, especially now that I have kids, is this job worth the head traumas you’re probably going to end up having when you’re older?” the Ravens’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle said.
“I just think about being able to raise my kids, see them through college, see them have kids. It makes me think more about how much more I want to play.”
Another day, another NFL tough-guy revealing how terrified he is of ending up with pain and cognitive dysfunction years after he’s called it quits in the game he’s played all his life.
Ngata is just one of dozens of players who have spoken out on the subject. And if dozens of players are speaking out, that means hundreds of them are thinking and worrying about what playing football might do to their quality of life down the road.
Now comes word that former San Diego Chargers’ great Junior Seau showed signs of degenerative brain disease when he took his own life last May.
And now we’re also hearing that instead of Seau having never suffered from concussions, as was initially reported, the great linebacker probably had suffered many concussions that he didn’t report and therefore were never diagnosed.
A few years ago, Ravens’ center Matt Birk revealed he planned to donate his brain after he died to Boston University, for a medical school program studying brain injuries in various sports.
Birk, a Harvard grad, is one of the more thoughtful voices in the Ravens’ locker room. He admitted to being worried about the toll his three concussions and countless other jarring hits he’d absorbed in 12 NFL seasons would have on his physical and mental well-being down the road.
There were snickers around the league – and even among the Ravens – that Birk was over-reacting, that he was a worry-wart.
But not too many players are laughing now.
In fact, more and more of them are being pro-active in their desire to find out if the game is scrambling their brains.
Tavares Gooden, the former Raven and current San Francisco 49ers linebacker, told USA TODAY that he’s been getting CT scans in the off-season “to make sure things are right in my brain. Every year I get a checkup . . . I try to stay on top of things.”
And he knows, with all the hits he’s already taken and the three or four concussions he’s suffered, that some irreparable damage might already have been done.
He told the newspaper that he’s OK as of today, but added: “. . .There are some things that go on where I can’t look into the light as well as I want to. I have light sensitivity, and sometimes I get migraine headaches due to the concussions.”
If you read between the lines, the man sounds scared.
And in this league, at this time, he’s definitely not the only one. Not by a long shot.