When professional athletes are asked how many concussions they’ve had, they tend to lowball. Often, you’ll hear “four or five” or the athlete will shrug off the question with “I don’t know”. Almost never do you get told a number more than 10 – in even the most extreme cases.
When former professional football player Gary Plummer was asked, he had a very different estimate that is shockingly high but possibly more accurate.
A Grade 1 concussion is considered “mild.” It might consist of a person “seeing stars,” brief confusion and no loss of consciousness. But it is still a concussion with a potentially devastating cumulative effect.
“If you’re not getting at least 10 of those a game, as a middle linebacker in the NFL, that means you didn’t play that day,” Plummer said. “I played 250 games. So [with] at least 10 a game, that’s 2,500 concussions.”
When most professional athletes estimate their concussions, they consistently focus on the obvious brain injuries. The knockouts and the hits that left them laid out for several minutes. They overlook the constant barrage of hits hard enough to make them “see stars” or experience other signs of mild head injury.
Throughout his career, Plummer spent three years in the USFL, eight seasons with the San Diego Chargers, and four seasons playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
In the interview, Plummer said he has struggled with memory problems, severe anxiety, and issues sleeping for more than a decade.
For years, the former NFL player ignored the signs that something was wrong, but the suicide of Junior Seau served as a wake-up call. Seau and Plummer were good friends.
Since then, Plummer has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, which he has worked to rehabilitate himself from. Despite it being a “slow” process, Plummer says taking action has already greatly improved his life.
Plummer enacted some changes in his lifestyle, such as practicing yoga, meditation, learning to play a musical instrument and spending countless hours gardening in the backyard of his San Diego home.
“I’m close to 75 percent better now,” Plummer said. “I wish more players understand early onset dementia is something that happens to us from the CTE, from all the concussions. Basically, what it’s doing is aging our brains faster than normal. So all these things I had been going through were accelerated by what I came to know after my career, in terms of the definition of concussions.”