Sterling Shepard took some time to push his tiny, giggly daughter, barely larger than a football herself, on the swings at a Manhattan playground on Tuesday morning. His wife, expecting another child later this year, stood off to the side, ducking out of the drizzle as best she could.
“I’m a hands-on father,” the Giants receiver said proudly.
It’s why he was there, to help install a changing table in the men’s room at the park, part of an initiative with Pampers that will put 5,000 of them around the country. He and other NFL players around the country took time to participate in various other events on Make A Difference Day. He joked about having to perform diaper duty on the run at times and needing an apparatus like the one he installed.
Shepard was bright-eyed and smiling. The perfect image of a doting father and husband enjoying time with his beautiful young family.
But there was a cloud over it all, and not the one that brought the soft rain.
Shepard, 26, is in the NFL’s concussion protocol for the second time this season. Twice he has not only suffered a brain injury in a game, but twice he returned to the field with it. In the opener against Dallas on Sept. 8 he was practically knocked out cold but no one noticed. The last time, on Oct. 6 against the Vikings, they did and he was taken out of action for an evaluation. Then cleared to go back. His symptoms from that one, he said, did not appear until the following day.
They’re gone now, the headaches and fogginess. He’s been symptom-free for about two weeks, he said. He’s been practicing with the Giants since last Monday. He’s itching to get back out there and help his team, losers of three straight, fix itself.
But that green light may be hard to come by. Because of the two concussions in a short period of time, doctors are being very cautious and conservative with Shepard. While there is a chance he can play Sunday against Detroit, it may be a few more weeks before he is cleared to return to games.
“It’s frustrating not being out there with your boys,” Shepard told Newsday. “Especially when you feel like you can contribute.”
There are, however, some in his life who are trying to nudge him away from football. They would rather have the Shepard, in his fourth season, who plays carefree on the swing set than the one who plays for the Giants and puts his future health at risk. They’ve seen the reports of what concussions can wreak — to football players and anyone who suffers them — and they worry that while Shepard is fine now, the next hit might be the one that scrambles his brain irrevocably.
“They’ve been saying stuff,” he shrugged. “But I’m going to do what makes me happy and this is what makes me happy. I’m going to continue to do that until I feel like it’s a little too much.”
What’s a little too much?
“When I get fed up with it.”
So far, that’s not the case.
“I’m not worried about it,” Shepard said of the risks and long-term ramifications of concussions. “This is what I love to do and it’s how I take care of my family. Yeah I do have two kids and I think about it from time to time, but I’ll make that decision later on down the road.”
For now, his focus is on returning from this second concussion in a little less than a month, not worrying about a third. He already has missed three games with them. He believes that is enough. He just has to convince the doctors of it.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” he said of football. “You just take it as it comes.”
Notes & quotes: The Giants signed LB Devante Downs off their practice squad and waived TE Garrett Dickerson. Downs was a seventh-round pick by the Vikings in 2018 and played two games as a special-teamer for them earlier this season.