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Concussions are part of the game of football

This weekend of NFL games had an unusual amount of big hits that lead to concussions. These injuries are now starting to garner closer attention by league officials, as well as team medical staffs. It made me start thinking about my career and how concussions, to me, were just part of the game.

I have had my fair share of concussions. I recall three in particular. The first concussion I ever had I was in high school, my freshman year. We were playing the Mckeesport Tigers. I hit a lineman and the best way I can describe how a concussion to me feels is, if you have ever been in a racket ball court, the hit echoed like a ball in the court. All I remember was how sick I felt for a few minutes and then I was ready to keep going. Ultimately that night and that play changed my mentality. I felt like I was invincible, because I was able to keep playing through an injury that many can't and at a high level at that. Not great thinking on my part, I admit. But that wasn't the worst concussion I've ever had.

The two worst concussions I suffered were while I was in the NFL. I remember them clearly, or at least the moments leading up to them. The first came against the Eagles in 2000. Let me set the stage for you. Brian Mitchell was a legendary, outspoken veteran in the Redskins' locker room. He picked on me day after day, to the point of where we could have or would have eventually came to blows.

Well, we all know the story about what happened to B. Mitch. That same off-season they released him, and he was later signed by the Eagles. Well, we played them in a prime time game at home. It was either a Sunday or Monday night game and I had kickoff duties and Mitch was the return man. All I could do all week was think about how bad B. Mitch had treated me and how I wanted to knock him out. So on the kickoff, I'm running 100 mph downfield and like a heat-seeking missile I had a lock on him. A then, wham! That's all I remember. That's the scariest thing about it -- it's time out of your life that you will never get back. I was told after my concussion that I would not take my helmet off, and that I was able to answer the questions posed by the medical staff to me correctly. Well, I used to rehearse the questions:

Where are we? Landover

What's your name? It's LaVar

What team do you play for? Can you ask a better question? The Skins.

What time is it? Do I look like I have a watch on my wrist?

I recall that the next day everyone who was questioning me was laughing because I was aware enough not to let my helmet out of my sight and that when I answered enough questions, I guess I said, Why are you guys asking me what time it is? I'm not wearing a watch. Let's go.I even went back out on the field. Yes, there were 12 men on the field and unfortunately, I was the 12th man.

The second concussion was in a game many people remember. It was a game against the Panthers, in 2001. We were 0-5 going into this game. I remember hitting running back Tim Biakabutuka in the hole and I heard that racket ball court echo. I was quickly taken into the locker room where I laid myself down in a dark room until the start of the second half. Again, I answered the questions well enough to be cleared to play. Well, I'm glad because we were getting beaten pretty handily. Then a stroke of fate hit. I made an interception and returned it for a touchdown, a play that is still referred to as the play that changed that season; a play that may have never happened if I wasn't cleared to play the rest of the game.

I was recently asked what it was like playing with a concussion. My honest answer would be it didn't feel any different than playing without one. Football is a game where the head is used frequently. That's the reality of it and I believe that every person that picks up the pads to play this violent sport understands that.

There's no telling how many concussions I've caused, and it's not because I was a dirty player, but because I was a guy who played every play like it was my last. I can remember playing against Dallas my rookie year, and how a routine rollout on Troy Aikman's part and a routine hit on the QB on mine ended his career. I don't boast or brag about the play, or knowing that I gave a concussion to one of the greatest QBs ever who played for one of our most hated rivals. I respect the man and his accomplishments way too much for that. But to me, that's part of the reason why. If I didn't run full speed and hit him with everything I had, then I would've been cheating my teammates, my fans, my family, myself, and the game of football.

There is a code of honor that most of us live and play by. It's why we often relate war and soldiers to the game we play. It's because we never know when it can all be over or what injury that it might be that ends it. If you ask me, that's the beauty of our sport -- the thrill of competing in front of multitudes of fans but not knowing if that will be the last time you ever play the game.

Although I am excited about players now receiving the proper attention to this injury, unfortunately some head to head blows are apart of the game. Football is a brutal game and it was way more brutal in the '60s, '70s, and the '80s without all these hi-tech pieces of equipment. The best way to proceed, in my opinion, is to continue to try and teach proper tackling techniques and to try to protect defenseless players. But the reality of it is that concussions will always be a part of full-contact sports.

By LaVar Arrington  | October 19, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Good article LaVar

Posted by: maz3 | October 19, 2010 8:14 AM | Report abuse

"It's why we often relate war and soldiers to the game we play"

Would you jocks quit using that metaphor already.....nobody is trying to KILL YOU FOR REAL on the football field or blow you up with IED's on the 50 yard line or a sniper up in the lights taking potshots at you. Sports is NOT WAR, not even close. Sure you get hit, get concussions, broken bones..but thats not war.

Posted by: nowhine | October 19, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Lavar, I have always been a fan...but I dont think the Post hired you to write about your career...at least I hope they didnt

Posted by: rc2223 | October 19, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Football is a contact sport that is true...nice article.

On Concussions, these are "Functional" injuries NOT "Physical", so everyone looks at guys with Consussion injuries like they are soft, or just playing a game to sit....when in reality, the concussion is an inury like any other in sports, like an ankle sprain, pulled muscle, etc.

My 14yr old son recently had a concussion received when hitting a runner in Defensive Tackling Drill practice.....great hit they siad, but his head adn the runners head hit unfortunately. We took him to an Impact Dr. who gave him 2 tests a Cognitive and Reaction test....1 week after his concussion his scores were terrible, meaning he was still concussed and he couldn't function in the work required part of the test, meaning using his brain....he took 2 more of those tests and in the next two weeks he vastly improved. The Dr. said, the brain is like any other part of the body, if injured needs time to recover adn it was evident in the tests my son took. Back in the day, if it happened like LaVar stated, we all said "I am OK Coach, put me back in" because that is how we did it back then, BUT today, that is not the case. One last thing on being concussed and tring to play, my son called a 32 Dive ad basic handoff to his right side in the 2 hole....when he snapped the ball instead of goign to his right and the 2 hole, he went to the left for a 31 Dive....needless to say, the concussion is fully a functional injury and needs time to heal like any other. Great stuff LaVar.

Posted by: talbottj | October 19, 2010 8:42 AM | Report abuse

While I agree that it is a violent game, and some concussions are inevitable, it is difficult to see the "honor" in delivering a helmet to helmet blow on a receiver who is unable to protect himself due to being in an awkward position. Years ago, these were simply called cheap shots. Maybe we need to back off the technology put into helmets for protection, since it seems the more protection that is added, the more defenders use the helmet as a weapon

Posted by: td010157 | October 19, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

While I agree that it is a violent game, and some concussions are inevitable, it is difficult to see the "honor" in delivering a helmet to helmet blow on a receiver who is unable to protect himself due to being in an awkward position. Years ago, these were simply called cheap shots. Maybe we need to back off the technology put into helmets for protection, since it seems the more protection that is added, the more defenders use the helmet as a weapon

Posted by: td010157 | October 19, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

No wonder your grammar is horrible. I can't understand half of what you say on the radio.

Posted by: MKadyman | October 19, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

If you can't understand Lavar, then perhaps YOU'VE had one too many concussions.

Posted by: jfmayer | October 19, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Is this about concussions or LaVar's career?

Posted by: mikeleon87 | October 19, 2010 11:03 AM | Report abuse

For those asking if the article is supposed to focus on concussions or LaVar. With LaVar, it's always about LaVar.

Posted by: VamosUnited | October 19, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Very well said LaVar. All I keep thinkin about is how these hard hits are a part of the game of football, and lets be honest.....a reason why we all love this game so much. Of course terrible injuries happen in football, but when the NFL wants to suspend players for hits that injure another player while also trying to expand the regular season to 18 games? If all the NFL really cares about is the safety of it's players, then there is a serious contradiction going on here....

We Are!

Posted by: risk48910 | October 19, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

It's a first person perspective from a former player. 99.9999% of people fortunately will never know what a concussion feels like. Be glad. The closest and average Joe will get to one is car accident. Similar symptons but's that's as far as it goes. It's not war, but when you go full pads thru two a days of training camp, regular season practices, games, etc. it begins to feel like a battle. Yes, it is a gladiator sport. For all those who complain, quit the hypocrisy of playing Fantasy Football. No discernible value apparent for a sports version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Posted by: ktaylor15 | October 19, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

Lavar, your belief that 'concussions happen' will probably be different if you're 50 and have early onset dementia like the tragic case of Andre Waters.

God willing that doesn't happen, but being fine when you're 30 and fine when you're 50 are quite different things.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this article:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/10/19/091019fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all

Posted by: smutsboy | October 19, 2010 1:49 PM | Report abuse

This article adds nothing to the important dialogue on concussions - it is just bravado of an ex-player reliving glory days. I'd be more interested in what ex-players who are now dealing physically with the consequences of prior concussions (e.g. dementia) would say or write about football and whether they'd do it all over again if they knew the consequences of playing the game.

Posted by: mwalsh3a | October 19, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Yes concussions are a part of the sport, but they do not have to be tolerated. Increasing the safety and protection of these super athletes is EXACTLY WHAT LEADS TO CONCUSSIONS. They throw themselves and their bodies around because they know they have an enormous amount of padding and protection. I say go back to the basics: leather helmets and smaller shoulder pads. This will teach players how to tackle more efficiently and effectively. They'll naturally play slower and hit softer, because of the lack of padding. They'll be able to "feel" the tackle more, instead of just throwing their bodies around like a missle.

Posted by: tbantug | October 19, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Concussions have been, and will likely continue to be a part of full-contact football and other sports. The real story here is about AWARENESS and getting the message through to players from the first time that they put on a helmet and pads; you are NOT INVINCIBLE. Mr. Arrington says that is how he felt when he suffered his first concussion in high school. We need to be sure that children, young adults and professional athletes understand the risk and long-term affects of head and brain injuries. That does not mean that the sport should stop, but that it needs to improve.

Posted by: PostID2 | October 19, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: nowhine
"Would you jocks quit using that metaphor already.....nobody is trying to KILL YOU FOR REAL on the football field or blow you up with IED's on the 50 yard line or a sniper up in the lights taking potshots at you. Sports is NOT WAR, not even close. Sure you get hit, get concussions, broken bones..but thats not war."

Really?
It's a perfectly good metaphor. Quit getting your PC panties in a bunch.

Posted by: jeadpt | October 19, 2010 2:19 PM | Report abuse

LaVar, I've always liked you as a player; and always thought you were done wrong by that sorry excuse for a Redskins owner.
But here, I'm not with you.
From someone who's played football and still practices martial arts at 50, there's a difference between the sport of football and organized thuggery. You're not tougher than rugby players and they do not have the kind of injuries we are discussing here. You sound like the people of older times that say: Well I went through it and I'm here, and I'm alright, so... Well, not !!! Hopefully you will not face serious health consequences at a later age, as many other football players unfortunately have.
A football player can be tough and not act like an animal; he can be as manly as anyone else and not savage opponents as if they were hated enemies; he can go after adversaries with all he's got, including good sense and honorable behavior.
The last time I checked, football was a sport, not a war between cities or between teams.
Football players, their teams, the league, and their supporters should require that football as a sport, be played by guys who do not want to be mistaken by cave men.
And finally , the NFL needs to worry as much about this at least as they seem to worry about going after players "convicted" of silly TD celebrations !!!

Posted by: lcribas58 | October 19, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

The NFL has glorified and encouraged through its brand advertising be it commercials or video games, the "separate head from player" mentality now for years. Now, after a weekend that produced, and actually a season that has produced an alarming number of concussions, they step in and want to punish the players.
I whole heartedly agree, there is a level of unnecessary roughness. Players dont necessarily tackle anymore, but hit and hit to hurt!!! Instead of tackling, they are encouraged to hit the player in order to cause a turnover.
Going to this extent, suspension and fines, mid season isnt fair to the players. They should be given the benefit of the doubt and will basically have to relearn and understand what it is now expected.
Not fair to the players!

Posted by: davemichelle09 | October 19, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Co-signing on jeadpt's comment.

It's unfortunate that concussions are a part of the game, but what's even sadder than that are the people who can't see how a former player's experience is relevant to the discussion.

Posted by: Rahwaj | October 19, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I was at that Eagles Game and I saw him take out B-Mitch; neither returned to the game either. That was the game that McNabb scrambled down the right sideline for 70 some yards and the Skins lost.

Crushing hit though...

Posted by: kahlua87 | October 19, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Medical research, currently being published, now shows that one cause of Lou Gehrig's Disease is head trauma, including concussions from sports like football (little known fact: Lou Gehrig had six serious concussions during his baseball career)
I obviously love football, having played in college myself. But it's becoming abundantly clear that the NFL, NCAA, and high school associations around the country need to implement significant changes to protect the health and safety of players. For example, helmet technology must be improved, and full-contact hitting in practice should, without a doubt, be a thing of the past.

Posted by: bhart311 | October 19, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

As an avid football fan my whole life who can run the 40 in no less than 12 secs and bench press 90lbs on a good day, with legs and arms thinner than sticks, football players should know the risk (as I would) and accept the risk to be on the field. Those big hits produce turnovers, which produce points, which produce victories. Big hits will always be part of the game, because that's what players need to do to win jobs and win football games and keep their fans happy. Happy fans buy tickets and merchandising and fill the pockets of the owners with money who then pay outrageous salaries that most likely none of us bloggers will make in a life time. If it ain't broke don't fix it!!!

Posted by: nehocdavis | October 19, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Um LaVar - I was at the Eagles game you mentioned and it wasn't prime time on Sunday or MNF. It was an overcast 1:00 Sunday start. I told my sister to follow you down the field w/ binoculars...and that was a helluva a hit that I was anticipating. But just wanted to clarify it was a day game.

perhaps a little more brain cell destruction than you accounted for?

Posted by: Franklin92 | October 19, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

As for the 50 yr old who Practices Martial Arts, give me a break. It's ballet in pajamas. Martial Arts is yoga. Something you should pray you never have to use to defend yourself. As for those who said concussions don't have to be accepted. Well understand it's a contact sport. It's going to happen, now matter what innovations you have in equipment, rule changes, etc. Trying to explain this to some of you, is like explaining what sex feels like to a virgin, pointless. I wish it wouldn't happen but it's physics. At best, you can train kids how to "bring their feet w/them" (another term you armchair never was an athlete type) in tackling properly. Unfortunately, the same guys who play fantasy football and never took the time to learn the game are usually the ones who are "coaching" kids today. You guys are also the idiots who want 18 game seasons. Do you think you're gonna get more concussions, if you do that?

Posted by: ktaylor15 | October 19, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

One of the best pieces I've read by LaVar. Written with authenticity. I liked that he tied this issue back to his own, highly relevant NFL experiences.

Posted by: jjj33 | October 19, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Football is a stupid sport. Not stupid to watch but stupid to play, much like boxing. I once loved football but the violent reality of the game plus the 3+ hrs of ED commercials have turned me away.

Posted by: smirkman | October 19, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

For those people who don't want a first-person perspective on concussions, don't read Lavar's blog. This blog was the most enlightening first-person accounts of a concussion experience I have ever read. I'm sure there are plenty of people who have heard that "racquetball" sound before -- not just NFL players -- but at the time they aren't willing to admit it is anything but getting their "bell rung".

NFL players (and players in other sports) often play through concussion symptoms. Concussion awareness is a good thing, but concussions will always be a risk in football. The NFL can try to cut down on headhunting and helmet-to-helmet hits, but it can't completely legislate hard hits out of the sport. There's a very limited fan base for the National Flag Football League.

Posted by: Kenbeatrizz | October 19, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

People forget that early in the 20th century, before professional football, there were so many deaths in college ball that legislation was proposed to outlaw the game. The universities decided to implement changes, including the use of helmets, to make the game safer. The rest is history -- the game changed and became the most popular sport in America. Now that football has returned to it's roots of ultra-violence it will have to change again to survive. It can be done again by returning to the fundamentals of form tackling. I watched the collection of damaging hits from this past weekend on Sports Center and nearly all of them started out high and were directed to the head or neck. Nobody wants to wrap up with a hit to the numbers, way too many attempted kill shots. LaRon Landry and Sean Taylor are classic head hunters who frequently miss the big hit and let the ball carrier escape. There will still be inadvertant blows to the head but many can be eliminated and must be for the game, and the players, to survive.

Posted by: Natmeister | October 19, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

To be honest, I really don't care about Lavar's write up this evening. At it's fundamental core, football is now as it's always been - blocking and tackling. The team that does both the best will inevitably win more games. The objective for the defense is to stop the progress - period. The objective of the "hard hits" is to make the ESPN highlight reel - period. I agree with the blogger above that mentioned Landry. I remember all the tackles he missed last season "flying" around the field trying to make the big hit and letting the runner progress toward big gains. It's a simple thing to wrap the runner up and bring them to the ground. It's still effective. It's still football. And I'd still watch it if they level heavy fines and suspensions on those that "head hunt".

Wanna see a hard tackling linebacker play the game the way it's supposed to be played without all the pomp and circumstance for the highlight reels? Then watch London Fletcher. He does an excellent job but never really gets the recognition because he's not a dirty player.

Posted by: BenThere | October 19, 2010 8:26 PM | Report abuse

I have never been a fan of arrington and his writing but this article is well written and i am sure when post hired him they were looking for a perspective like this, not the self absorbent 24/7 lavar. Good job Lavar, please keep writing articles like this..

Posted by: mazbar | October 19, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

"People forget that early in the 20th century, before professional football, there were so many deaths in college ball that legislation was proposed to outlaw the game. The universities decided to implement changes, including the use of helmets, to make the game safer. The rest is history -- the game changed and became the most popular sport in America. Now that football has returned to it's roots of ultra-violence it will have to change again to survive. It can be done again by returning to the fundamentals of form tackling."

Posted by: Natmeister | October 19, 2010 7:06 PM

This comment is spot on. Actually, it is an angle that has seems to have been largely ignored by the media. Once upon a time, football was so violent that death was a common occurrence. Similar to today, there was all sorts of public outrage regarding the "barbaric" sport of college football. Congress actually stepped in and put a tremendous amount pressure on the sport to change. In response, the "flying wedge" (Google it) was eliminated, hashmarks were implemented (which moved the game away from its "3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" roots and helped facilitate the invention of the "forward pass"), and better equipment (helmets, shoulder pads, etc.) was required.

For all of the people protesting and shouting, "But it's football! Violence is a part of the sport!" Read up on the history of the game. To survive, the game MUST change. And it starts from the top (NFL) down to the amateur ranks. For an example of what happens to a sport when people stop participating at the amateur level, just look at boxing...

With all of the information coming to light about the consequences of concussions, how as a parent, does one allow their child to be exposed to those risks just for the sake of sport? I think Commissioner Goodell is taking the right approach here. He is not overreacting. If the NFL doesn't police itself and enforce its own rules, then Congress will...

Posted by: MEssex | October 20, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

Would you jocks quit using that metaphor already.....nobody is trying to KILL YOU FOR REAL on the football field or blow you up with IED's on the 50 yard line or a sniper up in the lights taking potshots at you. Sports is NOT WAR, not even close. Sure you get hit, get concussions, broken bones..but thats not war.

Posted by: nowhine

If you have ever spent a day in uniform (Military) you would know that Football and "War" DO have similarities! Throughout my 20 year Military career, we made tons of football related analogies, from the planning stages to real world cbt. Go to ANY deployed unit in the field right now and you can bet there is a football being tossed and a pickup game being held. The analogy of football and war have been used from those vets of WWI and WWII who were great Atheletes (Football Players) that had to go to war.

I think everyone knows the difference between life and death....and whats a game.

Posted by: usc932000 | October 20, 2010 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Lavar is probably still concussed from his playing days juging by the quality of the blogs he posts.

Posted by: vmrg1974 | October 21, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

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