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.
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