FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Jets tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson didn’t fully understand just how significant the dangers of head trauma until he saw the recently released movie “Concussion” this week. The Jets’ offensive tackle, who has never missed a game or practice during his illustrious 10-year NFL career, said yesterday he hopes others will now be more sensitive to the subject and that the league will continue to stress ways to better deal with head trauma.
“It was just such an impactful movie, and I think it told a message that I don’t think a lot of people were aware of as far as the degree of what participating in the sport we love can cause,” Ferguson said in the Jets’ locker room. “It’s a different issue when you hear about somebody else going through it, but it’s another thing when you’re a part of the game and people that you’ve played with — Junior Seau, for example — have succumbed to some of these brain injuries.”
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“Concussion” focuses on the story of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovers the presence of severe brain damage caused by repeated head trauma in former Steelers center Mike Webster. Omalu determines that Webster died of a neurological condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and Omalu discovers that other deceased former players had the same condition. Omalu’s conclusions were initially rejected by the NFL’s medical community, which included former Jets team physician Elliot Pellman.
“I’m like, ‘Wow, this really comes close to home,’ ” said Ferguson, who was a rookie in 2006 during Pellman’s final season with the Jets. “It’s one thing when it’s an outside issue, but it’s another when you touch it so closely. He was our doctor. You just always want to make sure that the people that you’re around have your best interests at heart. In that particular instance, I think that wasn’t the situation.”
Ferguson has never been diagnosed with a concussion but wonders about the cumulative effect of all the hits he has taken, not only in the NFL but in all the years he played football before coming into the league.
“Because I know that I’ve played so much, it does make you wonder if this is something that can happen to me and have I put myself in harm’s way and didn’t necessarily know the implications of what I’ve been doing,” Ferguson said. “There’s no real answer to that. I’ve played the game as hard as I can . . . but what is the outcome of all that?
“I think a lot of times we focus on the game snaps, but we don’t talk about practice, training camps, college, high school, junior high school,” he said. “There’s a lot of snaps that go into the conversation, and I think the accumulation of those small hits over time is what leads to CTE, and I think that’s what is most eye-opening about both the movie and the discussion of brain injury.”
Ferguson thinks the NFL’s heightened awareness of CTE has contributed to an increased emphasis on making the game as safe as possible, although he acknowledged there are limits to how much can be done in a collision sport.
“I do know there have been several rules by the Competition Committee that look at certain hits and they say, ‘Hey, this year, we’re going to emphasize not making head-to-head contact,’ ” he said. “If that benefits us in the long run as far as protecting us from brain injury, that’s a positive thing. I think the ultimate goal is to put players in the best possible position not to succumb to these harmful effects of contact.”
Ferguson doesn’t have a son, but if he did, the tackle would be hesitant to allow him to play football.
“It’s something that the more you learn about it, I wouldn’t necessarily want to put my child in that if I could avoid that,” he said. “There are so many different things I want to avail him to.”
Asked whether he might consider retiring earlier than he might have planned because of concerns about head injury, Ferguson said he wasn’t sure.
“I’ve been able to be healthy and play this game for a very long time, but I think it would be more of a family issue and we’ll sit down and see what’s the best decision for me,” he said. “I think understanding the role of brain injury is important, most definitely, but it will be a couple different issues that will ultimately be the reason why I continue or stop.”