The trailer to a new mini-documentary titled “Shocked: A Hidden Factor in the Sports Concussion Crisis” concludes with Brett Favre stating, “Now I’m thinking, wow, if I only knew.”
The NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and three-time league MVP is referring to all the times he heard bells ringing or saw fireworks exploding after having his head slammed by an opponent — often into the playing field — and what that may mean for his long-term health. He didn’t know then that even the times he felt mere dizziness or fogginess he had, in fact, suffered a concussion.
“I think the general public has always thought a guy gets hit, he goes stiff, he’s out cold — a boxer gets hit and he just falls straight on his face — we know that’s a concussion,” Favre told Athletic Business Wednesday, on the eve of the documentary’s debut. “There are many more examples of concussions where a person is still conscious, but it’s no less damaging than the knockout blow. How many of those have I had? Oh, my gosh, too many to count. And that’s scary.”
During a playing career that spanned 20 seasons and 321 consecutive starts, and ended when his head was slammed to the TCF Bank Stadium turf in Minneapolis during week 15 of the 2010 season, Favre admits he didn’t realize the potential damage being done to his brain, or that advances in playing field technology — namely the underlying shock pad in some synthetic turf systems — may have helped prevent it.
And that’s why he’s speaking out now, to raise awareness among parents and youth coaches in particular. “There’s no way you would let your child go out on the football field and play tackle football without a helmet. You wouldn’t even consider that,” Favre says. “But you would let your kid go out in a helmet and play on the hardest surface out there. You just don’t think of the surface as a piece of equipment like a helmet or thigh pad or shoulder pads, but in reality it is. And I’ll be honest with you, I never thought of it that way either. There is something out there that is safer, and we have to press the issue and ask questions about the surface.”
Favre’s two worst concussions resulted from head-to-surface contact, and so does one out of every five concussions overall, he says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur annually within the United States.
“I don’t want to sound like a doctor, because I’m not. I’m no expert, but I do know that what little bit we know about concussions is not good,” says Favre, calling concussions the NFL’s hottest topic consistently over the past two years. “We’re seeing former players coming out, they have CTE, they can’t remember where they live, guys have committed suicide. And it’s not going away. The seriousness of concussions has got my attention, and I think it’s got the attention of former players, obviously, but even current players and players who have just retired early who would never have retired early in previous generations.”
Asked if he, given his iron-horse reputation, ever felt pressure to return to play with a concussion, Favre says no organization ever pressured him. As for internal pressure, he adds, “There’s no way I would come out of a game for a concussion,” relating a New York Giants game against Favre’s Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in which he sat out a play, returned to throw a touchdown on the next play, and then couldn’t remember having done it. Then came the last helmet-to-surface hit on the last play of his career. “I’d had enough.”
Favre’s understanding of concussions has evolved even more since. “I thought when the headaches go away, the dizziness goes away, there’s no more brain injury,” he says. “Well, that’s not true. It doesn’t go away. Had I known that, I’m almost certain that I would have erred on the side of caution more times than not. I look at my health a lot differently now than I did at 25.”
Favre says the NFL has done “a pretty good job” instituting the return-to-play concussion protocol, which coincided with his final playing season in Minnesota, though he contends that most players then didn’t know it existed. “Now, in the short time since it’s been instituted, concussions have become a much bigger issue,” he says. “Is it 100 percent foolproof? Absolutely not. It’s still a work in progress. They’ve spent a lot of money on helmets, and that’s great. But one of the things that I never thought about until the past couple years is what’s called a shock pad, put up underneath an artificial surface, and that has reduced concussions by a considerable number.”
“Shocked” premiers tonight at 6:30 p.m. (Eastern) on the new multi-platform sports network Stadium — the first of several appearances on the network in January. The documentary also features University of Tennessee turfgrass research specialist John Sorochan, Concussion Legacy Foundation president Chris Nowinski, and field designer Megan Buczynski, a principal at landscape architecture firm Activitas.