In just his first year in the NFL, 24-year-old Leonard Floyd sustained two separate concussions. Sadly, this may seem commonplace for an athlete competing at the highest level in one of the most brutal sports in America, but his recovery was far from common.
“It took me two months to really feel like I was back to myself,” Floyd told Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “I was just at the house, relaxing, getting my mind back together. After those two months, I felt back.”
For most athletes with brain injuries, concussions are a short-term problem. After a couple weeks, they are typically back on the field butting heads and making tackles. For Floyd, it was much longer before he felt good enough to work out, let alone take part in full-contact practices.
This might not be the case if the NFL’s concussion protocol functioned as it is supposed to.
Floyd’s second concussion of the season came in the first quarter of a game against the Washington Redskins in late December. After a tackle sent the linebacker’s head crashing into a teammate’s body, he was left sprawled out on the field motionless for several moments.
According to the concussion protocol, that should have triggered an automatic removal from the game for an evaluation. Instead, everyone on the Chicago Bears’ staff and the NFL’s independent concussion spotter somehow ignored the obvious injury and let the athlete continue playing for the rest of the quarter.
It was only later in the game, when Floyd ran the wrong play and couldn’t explain his mistake, that the staff of the Bears’ realized he might be injured.
“He was out of sorts,” Fangio said in December. “It should be an easy play for him to make. … But when we talked to him after the play and asked what happened, we knew he was concussed and we turned him over to the medical people.”
While the decision to remove Leonard Floyd was the correct decision, the delay between his injury and removal could be a big factor in his lengthy recovery. Studies have shown that staying in the game after a brain injury can more than double recovery time for athletes. Leaving an injured athlete on the field has also been tied to notably worse symptoms in the following days.
For Floyd, the concussion led to a number of symptoms. Most notably, he dealt with severe headaches and sensitivity to light after his injury. He also faced lasting cognitive problems and an inability to think clearly.
“You just don’t feel normal,” he said. “It’s the thinking part. You don’t think the same. I wasn’t thinking like I normally would think. And then I’d be staring off into space some time instead of paying attention.”
Now, after missing the final game of last year’s season because of his concussion, Floyd is poised to return to the field in the 2017 season. He is already participating in offseason practices and training camps, where he has spent time focusing on tackling drills to avoid future brain injuries.
Still, a cloud hangs over the young athlete. His teammates see great potential, but his recent injuries have raised the concern that more concussions could cause even longer recovery times and potentially life-long neurological issues.
As a linebacker, Leonard Floyd is in the most at-risk position in the NFL for brain injuries. Even if the NFL protocol functions properly in the future, there is always the risk for more concussions and complications.