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Rookies dismiss warnings about concussions

David Wilson, the running back out of Virginia

David Wilson, the running back out of Virginia Tech at the second day of Giants rookie camp. (May 12, 2012) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

At a time when many of those who had long and productive NFL careers are starting to question the long-term effects of the sport on their bodies and minds and raising a national debate on whether their sons should be allowed to play the game, those who are just entering the league are doing so without much concern.

Kurt Warner and Harry Carson -- and even current Giant Osi Umenyiora -- are flashing yellow lights at younger players, cautioning them to at least slow down and think about what they are heading into as professional football players.

Dave Duerson, Ray Easterling and Andre Waters took their own lives, while science closes in on connecting football injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) to their fates.

Thousands of former NFL players have filed lawsuits against the league over its handling of concussions through the years, and doctors are searching for evidence that could link the recent suicide of Junior Seau to any damage his brain suffered during his 20-year NFL career.

David Wilson, the Giants' first-round pick and a running back from Virginia Tech, has heard those stories in the news in recent weeks, tales about life after football and fathers not allowing sons to play.

"I think that's crazy," Wilson said, refusing to acknowledge any connection between a person's football career and physical or neurological issues he might have later in life.

"A lot of guys, they might take the wrong path and it comes out bad," Wilson said, adding that he has no concern for his health now or in the future. "Maybe the person had other influences and then they just use football as a [excuse] since that was the most dangerous thing they knew that person has done. They use that as an [excuse]."

It's an excuse Wilson said he doesn't believe. And he might not be alone among other rookies who were at the Giants' minicamp this weekend.

As they began their professional careers in recent days, they thought about blocking assignments and pass routes and coverage schemes. How their career path could affect these 20-somethings two or three decades from now is not one of their main concerns.

"I knew coming into it that football is a physical game and you just have to get used to it and know what comes along with it," second-round pick Rueben Randle said. "If you don't want to play, you shouldn't play it. If you don't want to take the risk of going out there and injuring yourself maybe for the rest of your life, it's not the game for you."

Seau's death sparked the most recent outpouring of opinion on the matter. Then Warner said he would be happy if his sons didn't play football, an idea rebutted by former Giant Amani Toomer.

Umenyiora, Randle's new teammate, noted this past week that he could wind up in a wheelchair by the time he's 45 years old because of his football injuries. He later added that it was an exaggeration, but the tone of his message is clear: What's done on the field today can have an impact for years to come.

"That's not a concern," Randle said.

But what about 30 years from now?

"It might be," he conceded, "but it comes along with it. I'm not going to really worry myself about it."

Knee and hip injuries are familiar to generations of football players. The new information is coming about concussions, even mild ones, and the effect they can have throughout a player's lifespan. The league has added safety rules and protocols in recent years to reduce concussions and treat them better.

"The NFL is well, well documented," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "The number one issue is player safety, and we are all behind that 100 percent."

He did say, however, that he has not spoken to the rookies about it at this camp.

"They're starting to crack down on a lot of it, safety and stuff, but I don't really pay attention to it, to tell you the truth," said Brandon Mosley, a fourth-round pick of the Giants. "It's a tough sport, a tough profession, but you have to do it if you love the game."

Limas Sweed, a veteran wide receiver trying out at the Giants' camp, has had his career curtailed by injuries (none of them concussions). He's aware of the dangers that concussions can pose to players. So what does he make of rookies such as Wilson who undoubtedly feel invincible now, not only shrugging off warnings but outright dismissing them?

"They probably just have to understand, just be around longer and understand that injuries are real, concussions are real, and things do happen," Sweed said.

Wilson, who is only 20 years old, isn't listening. He has his own opinions.

"There are very few people who are having accidents or [get] extremely hurt or paralyzed in football," Wilson said. "It's a contact sport and it happens. Boxing is the same thing. UFC, MMA, all these contact sports, getting hit is not going to make you go out and do something crazy. That's not an excuse. That's how I feel."

Whether he'll feel the same way at his retirement ceremony as he does at his rookie minicamp remains to be seen.

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