Morgan aware of the risks
Dan Morgan talks his problems with concussions and his decision to return to the game in the Weekly Conversation.
Editor's note: Graham Bensinger checks in with NFL players throughout the offseason. This week's subject: Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan.
Graham Bensinger: It's September 10, 2006. You suffered your fifth concussion in the Panthers' loss to the Falcons. Take me through that day.
Dan Morgan: I basically came from the side, got upended, flipped and landed on the side of my head.
Bensinger: How severe was it?
Morgan: It really wasn't severe. I popped right up but I felt a little weird when I got up so I walked over to the sideline. I knew where I was, though.
Bensinger: In a situation like that, what do the doctors and coaches say?
Morgan: They really don't say much. They see if you remember certain words, ask you the score, and what quarter it is. It's really just the basic stuff.
Bensinger: When you were asked those questions, did you answer them correctly?
Morgan: Yeah, I knew everything.
Bensinger: Concussions affect people differently. What are the typical side effects for you?
Morgan: The regular symptoms are headaches, nausea and loss of memory. I've never had too much of that going on. I've never felt horrible which is different from what some guys feel. I think mine are in a different category than other people's because I didn't have terrible side effects.
Bensinger: Does that apply to all of the concussions you've sustained or just the most recent one?
Morgan: That is for all of them. I've never gotten up from a concussion and not known what game or quarter it was. I just feel dizzy at first and then I'm fine.
Bensinger: How does it differ from the day you get the concussion to the day after?
Morgan: The first day it happens is upsetting. You feel like crap not only because you have a concussion, but because you missed the game. The next day you feel a little more lethargic than you would on a normal day.
Bensinger: What about a week after?
Morgan: By a week after you feel totally fine. After two or three days, I feel fine. I think a lot of times people get the wrong perception on certain guys' concussions, not just mine. You don't have to be knocked out on the field to get a concussion. That's not always what a concussion is. Guys can hit somebody and get little stars in their eyes and just think of it as a hard hit, but that's part of getting a concussion. You don't have to be knocked out and carted off the field for it to be a concussion.
Bensinger: What aspect of the game is most responsible for concussions?
Morgan: It's a physical game. You can't control what goes on out in the field. I'm the kind of player that plays reckless. That's my game. I'll dive into things. I'll hit things. I just really don't care when I'm out there. Sometimes that reckless abandon that certain guys play with can go against your health.
Bensinger: Looking back or moving forward, would you slightly alter that reckless abandon to be more cautious in your play?
Morgan: I can't go out there thinking that I've had concussions so I'm going to be cautious now. I feel I have to pick and choose my time. I'm the type of guy that when a couple guys already have the ball carrier taken care of, I'll come in and get a hit on him. I feel I can definitely back down from things like that. I, by no means, am going to be careful when I go out on the field. When you go out there and try to be careful -- that's when you do get hurt.
Bensinger: And you obviously want to win and are going to go all out as often as you can because that's the type of player that you are. The situation you just described is how you feel you can best reduce the chances for future concussions.
Morgan: Exactly. If the ball carrier is wrapped up by a couple guys and about to go down, I don't need to throw my head in there. It's really unnecessary for everybody.
Bensinger: What, if any, special equipment can you wear that helps limit the probability for a concussion?
Morgan: People talk about helmets, but it really has nothing to do with that. Most concussions have to do with your jaw positioning and how your jaw gets hit up. Our trainer has brought in these specialists that deal with your jaw. They make special mouthpieces so a bunch of guys have gotten screened for that and are going to wear them this year. That could possibly help out.
Bensinger: To what extent is there more that can be done in terms of actual equipment to limit concussions?
Morgan: I don't think that any piece of equipment other than the mouthpiece is really going to prevent any injury. That's how life is. Things are going to happen and you're going to get injured. There's really no prevention for any kind of injury.
Bensinger: It's been speculated that while you've had five documented concussions, you've sustained as many as eight or nine. How much validity is there to that?
Morgan: I've read that before. I think it's funny. I don't know where that stuff comes from. People think they know my situation and draw their own conclusions sometimes. That's not the case at all. I've had five or less. It's one of those things that you read and wonder where it came from because I sure damn didn't say it!
Bensinger: Somebody was in need of a story to write that day
Morgan: It's funny. The next thing you know they'll be saying I have 20 concussions.
Bensinger: Studies have shown that players with multiple concussions are more likely to suffer more concussions with less contact. What do you think of that?
Morgan: That's what they say and it might be true, but the thing that I've learned about concussions is that it's not an exact science. Even doctors will tell you that nothing is exact and nobody knows for sure how somebody got a concussion or what can prevent it. They're still learning and the jury is still out on a lot of things. I do believe it's true that you're more vulnerable as you get more concussions, but I think everybody's case is different.
Bensinger: How about the long-term ramifications of multiple concussions?
Morgan: You hear stories like Ted Johnson, Andre Waters [the brain damage he suffered during his football career led to depression which contributed to his suicide], and Muhammad Ali. I've heard pretty much everything. I think my case is a little different because I've never been just totally knocked out on a field. I'm definitely aware of concussions and what it could possibly do to my future. It's up to the player to ultimately decide if it's right for him to go out there and play or not. I've got a family and wouldn't go out there for one second if I didn't feel I was healthy enough to play.
Bensinger: When you first watched Ted Johnson on TV discuss he's suffering from Alzheimer's like symptoms He's 34 years old! What are you thinking?
Morgan: That's his situation. I think people think that since Ted Johnson is having those effects that I will, too. I don't believe that. Everybody's symptoms and concussions are different.
Morgan: Absolutely. They've talked to me about the long-term ramifications. They've said that anything is possible.
Bensinger: Life as a football player is grueling enough with the injuries you sustain and the long-term effects it could potentially have on your body. When you couple that with the uncertainty surrounding concussions, how scary is it to consider what your health may be like 15-20 years down the line?
Morgan: I think it would be scary if I felt like total crap when I've had the concussions and if I was sitting here now having day-to-day memory loss. I haven't had any symptoms and I passed all of my tests. I'm working out every day and feeling great, granted I'm not running into anyone, but I can just tell. Another thing that is different about my situation is that not many guys that have had concussions have taken off a whole year of playing football. I've taken off a whole year and prevented some of those things that guys might have played through. It's definitely helped me out and I think it's going to prolong my career, if anything.
Bensinger: How did the decision come about to take off this past year?
Morgan: I had concussions in back-to-back games and while they weren't terrible, they were happening more frequently. The doctors didn't want to see me keep getting them. That's why the decision was made to sit me out.
Bensinger: How hard was it to sit out for that length of time?
Morgan: It was a terrible feeling. I've played football since I was 6 years old. When the fall comes around, the one thing that I've known is playing football. That was the first year where I've not played football during that time. I got a chance to spend a lot of time with my family which was great, but I was definitely missing being out there with the guys. It was tough.
Bensinger: 52 percent of players who suffered a concussion during a six-year period returned the same game. Why?
Morgan: Not sure. If you do have a concussion one week, you shouldn't come back until you feel normal.
Bensinger: Is there any circumstance which you can justify coming back during the same game you sustained a concussion, regardless of how you feel?
Morgan: If you've had a concussion in a game and it's your first concussion I don't know. I think it depends on how bad your symptoms are. Certain guys can get hit and be fine. I've felt that there were certain times when I've been held out where I could have come back and played. We've had great doctors on our team and I think they've made great decisions concerning me personally.
Bensinger: Who's more of a proponent of a player returning: the player or the doctor?
Morgan: If I get a concussion and a doctor tells me that I'm OK to play, as players, we're so competitive that we're certainly not going to turn it down. It's just in our blood to go out there.
Bensinger: Have you ever been in or heard of a situation where either you or another player felt it necessary to stay out but were encouraged to go back in?
Morgan: No, not with my team. The Panthers have been nothing but professional with me. We've made all the right decisions. They've done a great job. I haven't heard of any situation where the team has said get your butt back out there.
Bensinger: Commissioner Roger Goodell has ordered all team doctors and trainers to attend a summit on concussions next month. What do you think of that?
Morgan: I think it's fine. I'm not sure what he's going to talk about in that seminar.
Bensinger: Do you feel the NFL has a concussion problem?
Morgan: Guys are getting concussions. I don't know if it's an issue or not. It's just like a knee or shoulder injury. They're all harmful to your body any way you look at it.
Bensinger: Best-case scenario. What would you like to come out of the meetings?
Morgan: Players need to pay attention to concussions and not just overlook them and try to be tough guys and push through them. Guys definitely need to pay attention to them.
Bensinger: If it was decided that players can't resume play in a game in which they get a concussion, what type of reaction would there be?
Morgan: If a guy gets a concussion, maybe it would be better if he's not allowed to come back. Some guys might feel they should be able to come back, though.
Bensinger: The commissioner has a new policy that will require players to take a baseline neuropsychological test by the start of the 2007 season. It will determine cognitive abilities memory, and motor skills. Then, when a player gets a concussion, he can be tested to determine what neurological changes have taken place. What are your thoughts on that?
Morgan: I think it's a good idea. If you're concerned about concussions, that's a good way for teams to go about it. It's not a long test. You won't be sitting there for hours. You can be done with the test in 15 minutes. If a guy does get a concussion, you'll at least have a baseline test on him. Then, you can make him take the test again after he sustains a concussion and you can see where the numbers are at and if they match up to when he is completely healthy. It's a good thing.
Bensinger: I know you're thrilled to be back and able to play, but it has been a long road. How much, if any, consideration did you give to retirement?
Morgan: It never popped into my head. You heard people saying maybe I should retire, but nobody knows my situation. They want to think they know how I feel or that I'm just playing for money, but that's not the case. I've made plenty of money and I don't play this game for money. I play this game because I love it. If I felt like I wasn't good enough to play, I would in no way ever jeopardize my family.
Bensinger: Clearly, if everyone was able to enjoy their job as much as you do then they might be able to understand that. Obviously, it doesn't help to think about this, but what happens if you get another concussion?
Morgan: Nobody knows their future. If we did, everyone's life would be a lot easier. I just need to take it one day at a time. If that does happen, then I'll deal with it. Hopefully, it doesn't happen, I play a full season, go to the Super Bowl and go to the Pro Bowl.
Bensinger: What assurances has the medical staff given you concerning your health?
Morgan: I sat down with the doctors and they told me what kind of risks there were. I understand all of my risks and I fully understand that I could possibly get another concussion by going out there. I made the decision with my family and we feel good about it.
Bensinger: How exciting is it to get back?
Morgan: It's real exciting. I was chomping at the bit to get back out there. As a veteran, you usually don't get excited about preseason games, but I'm actually looking forward to going out and running in front of the crowd. There are just little things that you take for granted. I've gotten to sit back and take it all in.
Bensinger: How was minicamp?
Morgan: Even something like that, as a veteran, you just want to get through it, but it was nice to get back out there. To be able to look guys that I've played with for seven years in the eyes and sweat and work together -- it felt really good.
Bensinger: There's no hitting in minicamp. While you certainly aren't afraid of being hit, how much do you almost need to take a couple to regain that comfort level?
Morgan: I'm not going to go into training camp and be nervous or scared of my first time hitting a lineman or a fullback coming at me. I've done it a million times since I was a little kid. I've come back from concussions before and came in the next game and hit somebody hard and been fine. I've had plenty of time to heal. I've taken all the right steps to make sure I feel good and I'm confident in going out there and staying healthy.
Graham Bensinger is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Visit his Web site at: TheGBShow.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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