When the film “Concussion” came out in 2015, highlighting the dangers and lasting impacts of the injury on football players, Golden Tate had no interest in seeing it.
“I just didn’t want to know at the time,” the Giants wide receiver said. “I was kind of scared to think about what could happen. It’s one of those what-I-don’t-know-won’t-hurt-me [situations].”
Avoiding the contemplation of such perils of professional football is easy to do when it involves not buying a movie ticket. It’s a little more difficult when it’s affecting the guy in the locker next to you.
That’s where Tate found himself on Wednesday, sitting on a stool next to the spot where Sterling Shepard usually is. Only Shepard wasn’t there. He was in Pittsburgh at the UPMC Concussion Program being examined to see why, after he was cleared from his second concussion late last week, his symptoms returned and he was placed back in the league’s concussion protocol.
“There are gurus there on this type of injury,” Pat Shurmur said on Wednesday, “and so we’re going to get him further evaluated there.”
While Shepard is the one dealing with this specific injury, his status serves as a reminder to all of the players about the risks they assume every time they step on the field. It’s something they can’t block out, and it has them weighing their own safety while considering Shepard’s.
Players these days are pinned between the old tough-guy mentality of shaking off concussions and the new-age movement of understanding the repercussions.
“We all know what we signed up for,” tight end Evan Engram said, nodding to the former, before, in the same breath, acknowledging the latter by adding that “a life outside of football is more important.”
So which side is winning? Instead of grousing about Shepard’s prolonged absence the way players might have a generation ago — probably as recently as a decade ago when Tate entered the league — his current teammates are encouraging him to take his time.
“We’re a better team with him out there,” Tate said, “but as a family man who has kids, I think it’s way bigger than us in this locker room and football. I’m going to support him throughout this as much as I possibly can and hope he makes the correct decision whether it be in the Giants’ favor or not. Ultimately you have to be selfish when it comes to your head, neck and brain.”
There is a chance Shepard won’t play again this season. There is a chance he may never play again.
“We want him to understand that we support him, we’re praying for him, and we want him to make sure that he’s right,” Tate said. “Whether it be this week, not anymore this season, next year, whenever it is, we’re going to support him…I think it’s important that he makes sure the timing is right, if it is right, that he comes back and he is completely healed.”
Like many NFL players, Tate has dealt with concussions in his career, diagnosed and otherwise. And since skipping that Will Smith movie, he’s taken it upon himself to learn a lot more about brain injuries. He said he has thought about what it will mean to him once his NFL days are over.
“Tell me I have to get a hip replacement in 10 years, all right, fine, I’ll deal with that in 10 years,” he said. “But you tell me there is a chance I might not be able to remember a lot of my career or my childhood or my childrens’ childhood, that’s scary, man. It gives me chills.”
It was just a few days ago that Shepard was sitting in front of his locker — next to Tate’s — talking about his return against the Cowboys and having all of the Giants’ offensive weapons together on the field for the first time. That never materialized. Shepard was ruled out the following day after telling the Giants he did not feel well.
He’ll almost certainly miss a fifth straight game on Sunday against the Jets, a sixth game out of 11 this season.
“It’s definitely hurting him not to be out there,” Tate said. “The guy brings a ton of energy when he’s on the field. He has fun, he plays the game the right way. This organization, this city, we love him. But it’s something you have to be selfish about.”