According to the official record, Tom Brady has never had a concussion in his 17 years playing in the NFL. So, it obviously raised some eyebrows this month when his wife Gisele Bundchen told Charlie Rose on CBS This Morning that Brady has actually experienced several concussions – including one last season.
The disclosure was a rare moment of honesty about concussions in a league that would often prefer to not talk about brain injuries.
Everyone knows concussions are a part of football and it is unrealistic to assume a player could make it as long as Brady has been playing at the highest levels of the sport without experiencing some brain trauma. But, until Bundchen let the cat out of the bag, Brady has always hand-waved away any questions about his injury history.
But, now people are asking more questions and not just about the Patriots’ quarterback.
Players across the league are being pressed on whether they’ve hidden brain injuries and the answers show that Brady’s unreported concussions are far from rare in the NFL.
For example, retired Lions wide receiver told reporters are the “Catching Dreams” football camp that he and others regularly hid concussions from doctors during his time in the league.
“Guys get concussions, they don’t tell the coaches. It happens,” said Johnson, via the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t tell the coach sometimes, because I know I’ve got a job to do. The team needs me out there on the field. And sometimes you allow that to jeopardize yourself, but that’s just the nature of the world.”
This isn’t just a problem among former NFL players either. Johnson’s attitude is strikingly similar to current New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who last week went as far as to say he would hide his concussions from his wife as well.
“I wouldn’t want her to worry,” Brees told “The Dan Patrick Show.”
Brees doesn’t completely dismiss the severity of concussions but suggests the competitive spirit of the game drives many athletes to keep playing until they are physically unable. While describing a time he stayed in the game during in 2004 with the San Diego Chargers, Brees also shows the importance of having team staff that can notice the signs of a brain injury and removes players who won’t voluntarily report their injuries:
“I knew that something was not right. I knew that I was concussed. But I didn’t take myself out of the game. I mean, I stayed in the game and played as long as I could until finally a coach pulled me aside and was like, ‘I’m looking out for you here, and you’re not gonna play anymore.’ …
“And that’s why it’s hard to change that mentality for guys. When you’re in the heat of the moment, heat of the battle and it’s competitive, you do not want to pull yourself out. That’s why the concussion protocols are in place where you’ve got the independent neurological consultants and the trainers and the referees. Everybody’s supposed to be looking.”
Of course, not everyone takes such a passive stance on brain injuries. Ben Roethlisberger has received numerous heavy hits and injuries during his career, but he says he takes brain injuries just as seriously as any other wound – if not more so.
In particular, he points to a 2015 game where Roethlisberger walked off the field because he knew he was experiencing concussion symptoms.
“I’m proud of it,” Roethlisberger told TheMMQB’s Peter King on his podcast. “I have been just like Drew [Brees] where I haven’t reported things before either. Probably everybody who has ever played the game of football hasn’t reported an injury. For me it wasn’t about an injury—I’ve played through many injuries—but when you talk about your head, that is a different ball game.
“You can replace a lot of body parts, but you can’t replace a brain. You see the effects of it from past players, players who have taken their lives, the CTE, all that stuff and, you know, I’m thinking about my family and long term. I love this game and I love my brothers that I play football with, and I would encourage any player who has an issue with their brain to just report it properly . . . We are blessed to play this game but we also have a life to live.”
In the end, there are still many different stances about concussions and brain trauma in the NFL. While players like Roethlisberger show some are beginning to take notice of the thousands of former players with long-term injuries and symptoms, Brees and Johnson show there is still a lot of progress to be made. At the very least, we can be appreciative that Bundchen and Brady have gotten people talking about why players aren’t reporting their concussions.