I’ve tried hard refrain from continually writing posts about the league’s concussion concerns, and posts that debate whether or not players should allow their children to play a game that’s made them very rich, and very happy. The head injury discussion was reignited by Junior Seau’s death, and it isn’t exhausted yet, and it’ll never be exhausted. However, it feels like we need a brief pause and a step back to refocus on the issue with some sober second thought.
But a former player who’s only 30 years old is wandering around his house and often sleep walking while he’s awake, so Randall Gay’s story and his quote describing the scary concussion life after football warrants attention.
Gay was a cornerback who spent seven years in the league split between the Saints and Patriots, and he was placed on the injured reserve in 2010 after suffering his most severe concussion. The Saints released him shortly after the lockout ended, and now he spends his days in retirement doing the aforementioned daydreaming while wondering and worrying.
He spoke to the Boston Herald, and he described the vast difference between a player in retirement who has sustained multiple concussions, and a player who has been beaten and bruised by football more conventionally in other areas of his body.
“It’s scary because you don’t know enough about it,” Gay said. “When you play football, it’s the effect of everybody just wants to deal with it. All right, my ankle hurts? I can deal with it. My arm hurts? But I can deal with it. It’s not hurting enough where I can’t play. Then you’ve got the headaches, the concussion thing. I’ve got a headache, but I can deal with it. That’s the mindset that you go through your whole life with.
“But then it gets to the point where you don’t know enough about head injuries to just say I can deal with it. You might be able to deal with it today, but you don’t know what tomorrow holds. That’s the scary thing about it. That’s the decision you don’t want to make.
“I love the game of football, and I feel like I can deal with the headaches or just being nauseous. Just being a little dizzy, I can deal with it, but you just never know what it’s going to bring later.”
Gay perfectly highlights the culture change that has to happen around NFL locker rooms, but it’s a hopeless goal. Roger Goodell can keep introducing new rules to further legislate player safety, but only the players can look out for the future of the players.
The competitive fire inherently burns deep inside every athlete, and they’re well aware that the NFL is structured to immediately replace the injured and wounded. For middle tier players, a serious injury could mean the end, or at the very least the end of their time as a starter. So the instinct is to fight, and rebound quickly.
Walking aimlessly around your living room at the age of 30 still sounds much worse than temporary unemployment.