Stephen Davis formally retired from football in 2008, two years after he played his last snap during his one and only year in St. Louis where he faded into the running back sunset at the age of 32. As is common with his position, he had been plagued by injuries towards the end of his career, missing a combined six games between the 2002 and 2003 seasons. He’s most remembered for his time with the Redskins and Panthers, and his four +1,300-yard seasons that led to three Pro Bowl appearances, and one year in which he led the league in rushing TDs (he had 17 in 1999).
Fans may remember Davis as that running, pounding RB during his prime, but Davis doesn’t. He isn’t remembering much of anything lately.
Last week Davis became the latest player to sue the NFL in response to his physical state in retirement that’s a result of multiple concussions he sustained during his career. His lawsuit is No. 102 against the league, a legal jamboree that includes 2,653 former players.
When any of those players speak publicly about their symptoms, it’s downright scary. They’re often in their mid to late 30s (Davis is 38), and they’re mostly still young men with young families. Yet simple, everyday functions are challenging.
For example, you’re reading this post right now on a bright computer screen. Jamal Lewis would struggle with that, because he suffers from a severe sensitivity to light.
Davis sounds worse. Sure, we all forget to pay the odd bill (which he’s very guilty of too, and far more than just the odd bill), and men everywhere are being chastised tonight for not taking out the garbage because the garbage can is too grimy for female hands and noses. These are known facts of life.
But Davis’ memory loss goes much deeper. Do you have to record basic, daily conversations? Davis does, because if he doesn’t have those conversations saved somewhere, he won’t remember them.
It gets worse. Davis described his symptoms to the Washington Times:
Today, Davis needs a television or other background noise on to drown constant ringing in his ears. There are “real bad” headaches. Blurred vision. He hates to be in sunlight. Driving is challenging.
The man who rushed for 8,052 yards and 65 touchdowns has a tough time getting out of bed and in and out of cars. He’ll need knee replacement. He can’t lift his arms above his shoulders or walk or stand for extended periods.
He added that while the league’s treatment of concussions and the return to play protocol has improved in recent years, that’s not helping him. During his time the emphasis was firmly on returning to the field, and little else.
“The coaches and doctors try to get you back on the field regardless of if you’re hurt or not hurt or have a concussion,” Davis said. “It’s more about getting you back on the field than making sure you’re OK.
“If you could put your hand on your nose, you were good to go back in.”
Among coaches and trainers, that attitude towards head injuries has changed now due to legislation from the league that mandates care and caution. The next step is getting the culture among players to change, and with stories like this one detailing Davis’ symptoms that are connected to injuries suffered in the not-so distant past, that shouldn’t be difficult.