Jamal Lewis spent his career as the proverbial backfield battering ram, choosing to run over defenders with his 5’11″, 290-pound frame rather than juke to the outside.
It’s a role that’s been a staple of the running back position since the game was conceived, a far away time when helmets didn’t exist. If a team’s primary RB doesn’t fit the bruiser description, then a secondary runner who specializes in goal-line and short yardage situations is often utilized.
Again, that’s a common and mundane strategy, but it’s also the same fundamental football principle that’s led to Lewis’ uncomfortable retirement. Lewis retired in 2009 after nine years in the league between the Ravens and Browns. He left following seven 1,000-yard seasons (one 2,000 season), 10,607 rushing yards overall, and a lingering concussion problem that’s still restricting his quality of life.
His retirement came after a blow that gave him his final concussion and more, as an MRI showed brain abnormalities. So as the search for perspective and insight following Junior Seau’s death continues, picking up the phone and dialing Lewis’ digits was an easy decision.
That’s what WCNN in Atlanta did, and after Lewis described his ongoing symptoms three years after he retired (memory loss, headaches, dizziness, and a sensitivity to light), his most telling quote outlined his belief that among players there’s a lack of eduction and knowledge regarding the effects and symptoms of head injuries.
From Sports Radio Interviews:
“You can say really what you wanna say, but at the same time you’re talking about a silent killer. Hey, yeah, we know that this is a dangerous sport, but I don’t remember the last time somebody got killed on the field. But at the same time, it is a dangerous sport and we do play it and we love the game, but you still should, as a person, have the right to know: ‘Hey, if you do get a concussion or you are diagnosed with a concussion, these are the things that you need to watch for.’ And I think as a person — as a human being — you should have a right to know that.”
The culture of the game doesn’t leave much room for caution. Just this past season we saw a clearly concussed Colt McCoy pushed back into a game, and Lewis himself played eight more games following his first concussion of the 2009 season in Week 1. Asking for that culture to change is a hopeless request, but it’s also the easiest way to improve post-football life. The education process that Lewis describes starts with communication, and all parties involved–player, coach, and the training staff–feeling free to be honest about a potential head injury.
What’s partially making that process of culture change so difficult is that many players are indifferent towards life after football while they’re still in the game. Take Roddy White, the Falcons receiver who tweeted today that his passionate love for football runs so deep that if he can’t walk when he’s 50 years old, it’ll be well worth it.
That’s incredibly easy for White to say now as a 30-year-old. But he’s a wide receiver, so within the next few seasons he’ll experience a gradual fade, and his career will likely be over by the time he’s 35, over maybe 36 if he’s lucky.
It’ll end abruptly, and if he’s in good health, that’s great. If not, walking will suddenly become very important when running to catch a football isn’t possible anymore.