London Fletcher: Concussions ‘Can Happen A Couple Of Times A Game’
The inside linebacker addressed his history with head injuries Thursday, including the revelation on Thursday that he has experienced episodes “a couple times a game” that could be considered concussions.
BY ZAC BOYER
ASHBURN – The violent collisions of 15 seasons in the NFL have undoubtedly taken a toll on London Fletcher, who admitted Thursday that his physical play has caused him to experience countless situations which, given the current understanding about head injuries, could be considered concussions.
“I play inside linebacker and I like to play it physical,” Fletcher said. “So, I don’t know, it can happen a couple of times a game, but I wouldn’t classify them as concussions; they’re just, you know, bell-ringing. You’ll see stars for a second, and then you’re back to normal in two, three seconds – whatever the case may be. That’s just the way the game is.”
Fletcher, the Redskins’ mike linebacker for the last six seasons, has played in every regular season game since he entered the league as an undrafted rookie in 1998. His 240-game streak is currently the longest among all active players and the fourth-longest among all non-specialists in league history.
Yet Fletcher revealed in a story appearing in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated that he missed a preseason game last season because of a concussion. He said Thursday he kept the concussion quiet because he’s “an old school player” who didn’t want to allow opposing teams to know.
“I think players sometimes go running to the trainer a little too much,” Fletcher said Thursday. “You get a hang nail, you go run to the trainer. You get a sprained finger, you go running to the trainer. So for me, I’m just of the mentality if you can go out and play you don’t need to run to the trainer about every little thing that’s going on with you.”
The SI story detailed Fletcher’s off-season training regimen, a six-week program which occasionally involved the linebacker tying himself to a fence in a public park near his home and chasing a yellow cone while wearing a weighted vest.
His concussion last year, he told the magazine, was the worst he’s had since he was a junior at John Carroll, a Division III college outside of Cleveland, when he nearly fainted taking a post-practice shower. He also said he has sustained several concussions in his career – “probably not” fewer than 10.
But to him, there’s a distinction between a concussion and other mild head trauma, which he believes is partly a product of the era in which he began playing football.
“It wasn’t the situation like it is over the last two or three years, or even maybe four or five years, where there’s a heavy emphasis on it,” Fletcher said Thursday. “There’s a lot more studies on the impact of those collisions to your brain and things down the line. Yeah, I think my mentality is different. Now, looking at how things have taken place, some of the situations that happened recently, yeah, you think about it. But also for me, I don’t want to think about it too much because I’m also in the midst of the season.”
Fletcher was dropping into coverage on Bills tight end Scott Chandler late in the first quarter of that preseason game when he collided with free safety Madieu Williams. He played the next four plays before leaving with the rest of the starting defense, and he sat out the following week’s game against the Bears because, as Mike Shanahan said at the time, he was “still not feeling right.”
It was hard to gauge exactly what was wrong initially, Fletcher said, because he passed some of the concussion tests but not others. Shanahan said for the first time in October that Fletcher had suffered from “balance issues” earlier in the season, though he did not elaborate.
Fletcher told SI that the issues in question were related to a neck injury he sustained on that hit in game against the Bills when his head was wrenched backward.
Shanahan again said Thursday the linebacker was suffering from “more of a balance issue,” though earlier in the day Fletcher scoffed at that label. He said it was more that he would break out in sweats and need to take a moment to compose himself rather than experiencing any trouble standing.
Awareness of the role concussions and other head injuries have had in former players’ lives after football has led to several hundred lawsuits filed by several thousand players. In May, former all-pro linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide at the age of 43, and a postmortem examination of his brain revealed significant damage.
“I think the NFL is doing the right thing, you know, trying to take care of the players from that standpoint,” defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. “I think they’re doing a good job with the concussions, the injury stuff, and I think they’re going in the right direction with all that. I think that’s the best thing to say – that I think the NFL is doing the right thing.”
Fletcher acknowledged the greater attention paid to head injuries has affected his thinking in some regard.
“But also, I signed up for this,” Fletcher said. “Nobody made me play this game. I fell in love with the game of football when I was probably five, six years old, and remember watching the games on television and just really love the game of football, and I’ve been in love with this game, pretty much my whole life. Would I change anything? Not really. You pray for the best as far as the situation down the line.”
This report was originally posted on 8/22/13 at 2:40 p.m. and updated on 8/22/13 at 7:18 p.m.