The NFL has been accused countless times of hiding downplaying or outright hiding the risk of brain injuries from its players, but one athlete says some in the league are also trying to keep word from getting out to the public.
In a recent hearing with the Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on the Judiciary, former Detroit Lines linebacker DeAndre Levy testified that leadership of the team attempted to silence him after speaking out about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the NFL.
While responding to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, Levy recounted how he was contacted by members of the franchise after he had addressed CTE in an interview with ESPN and in a letter published by the Detroit Free Press. These leadership figures reportedly told him not to speak about the issue any further.
“Even in my experience, like the letter you brought up, the moment I said anything about it, I had two calls telling me I shouldn’t talk about it,” Levy testified Friday. “And I don’t know if it was because of CTE or if it’s because the general NFL rule, like only football, only talk about football, only think about football. So I posted simply the research. I spoke with Dr. [Robert] Stern a couple summers ago, and I wrote the paper and was told not to talk about it the first day it was out. It was like, it could have been just because locker room culture is nobody wants to talk about anything other than football, but it didn’t sit well with me when I’m talking about brain injury, you know, my brain.
“It’s not my shoulder. It’s my brain. It controls everything I do. It controls everything we think, we feel, and if I don’t have the right to speak about that as a player, I think it kind of really speaks about the culture of the NFL, what the conversations are. I think that’s indicative of the conversations that we don’t hear, the closed-door conversations between the owners. They still are trying to find ways to silence us.”
In response, the Lions released a statement reading: “We are aware of [Levy’s] comments and we strongly disagree with his claim that anyone from our organization tried to silence him.”
During his testimony, Levy said that NFL teams regularly talk about “hot topics” with the press, such as domestic violence and gun issues. However, teams refuse to discuss CTE or brain injuries. He went on to say that he thinks the only people in the league who care about the issue are the players.
When asked what could be done to reduce or prevent concussions in the league, Levy suggested that he thinks reducing or stopping full-contact practices would be a good first-step while more research is conducted.
By his estimate, he received between 20 to 30 subconcussive hits each day in practice.
“It’s just inherently a violent sport, and just to survive and not get injured, you’re going to open yourself to some of the risks. So I think right now, we should try to find ways to limit those risks and cut down on the unnecessary collisions,” Levy said. “I don’t think we should be in any collisions other than on Sunday. Makes no sense.
“I went into games on Sunday with my neck and my head aching just because of Wednesday and Thursday, and I think we can cut that down until we figure out a more substantial answer. I think right now, I think the players that don’t know, right now they don’t know what’s coming. We got to find a way to get that message into the locker room.”
Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers of Michigan specifically asked about the letter Levy wrote to the Detroit Free Press in 2016 demanding answers about CTE.
Levy said the letter was inspired by a conversation he had in a locker room with eight or nine other players, where they all joked about suffering from forgetfulness and other signs of CTE. However, none of the other players were aware of the research on CTE and the risks associated with repeated brain injuries. Despite being somewhat informed about CTE, it took Levy time to recognize he may be dealing with symptoms of the disease himself.
“For a long time, I was unable to link it. I had memory issues. I had times during the day, during the week, where my mood just switches, and I don’t know why,” Levy said. “And I can’t control it. I can’t come out of a funk. It’s like a fog over me.”
Despite saying that some tried to silence him, Levy has remained an outspoken advocate for more research into CTE. His latest testimony shows that he will continue to speak out and ask questions whether the NFL wants him to or not.