Commentary

Morgan's return not without risk

Dan Morgan is confident he's ready to return to NFL, but the specter of concussions will always be there, writes Pat Yasinskas.

Originally Published: January 27, 2009
By Pat Yasinskas | ESPN.com

Dan MorganDavid Stluka/Getty ImagesDan Morgan reportedly has had at least five concussions in his career.
TAMPA, Fla. -- My boss asked a question Sunday, and I knew exactly where this was going. "Hey, you have a phone number for Dan Morgan?" he said.

"Are we doing a concussion story?" I asked.

Sadly, that's the first thing just about everyone thinks of when Morgan's name comes up. It's a shame because Dan Morgan was one heck of a football player and an even better person. I covered Morgan's entire playing career when he was with the Carolina Panthers and I wrote for The Charlotte Observer.

Through the years, I've talked to Morgan about concussions far more times than he or I ever wanted to. But I did have the number, and the boss wanted an update on how Morgan was doing after being out of football for a season.

I made the call, and he called me back an hour later. Morgan, who retired from the New Orleans Saints in May, started telling me what I wanted to hear. He said he had just finished a meeting for his new career as a businessman. He's getting ready to open a pizza restaurant and a diner in Charlotte in February.

Then, Morgan very happily slid in some news I wasn't expecting and didn't (at first) want to hear.

"Hey, I filed my reinstatement papers with the league," Morgan said. "I've been talking with the Saints, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to play for them."

I'm not sure what I said back into the phone, but I know what ran through my head -- thoughts of Morgan's wife and three kids and thoughts of Morgan himself. When he first announced his retirement, I let out a big sigh of relief because I was hoping Morgan was walking away from the game he loves so much before it did any real and lasting damage.

You hear the reports about how concussions later caused disastrous problems for former NFL player Andre Waters -- who suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2006 -- and the last thing you want to see is similar issues for Morgan. As a writer, you're supposed to keep a professional distance from the players you cover, but Morgan has always been one of those people you have to like. He's a regular guy who somehow always stayed polite even when being quizzed about injuries.

He loves bowling and his family, and he loves football more than anyone I've ever met.

As I processed Morgan's revelation, I wondered whether his priorities were out of whack. He's 31 and has everything he could possibly want in life. Morgan's concussion history stretches back to his days at the University of Miami, and he reportedly has had at least five. There have been studies that suggest that once you've had a concussion, you're susceptible to more.

Why come back to football and take what seems like a huge risk?

"Yes, I know I've had some concussions," Morgan said. "But I think the public has kind of blown that out of proportion. They don't know my exact situation. My concussions weren't severe. I never had the bad headaches or the memory loss that they talk about in those studies. I've seen all those studies and talked about them at length with my doctors, and I feel good about the situation."

It's hard not to be skeptical, but Morgan's words were convincing and this isn't a decision he has come to lightly. Morgan has consulted with some of the most knowledgeable doctors in the world. Some of them cleared him for a return to football a couple of months after he suffered two concussions early in 2006. Carolina's team doctors were even more cautious and sat him down for the rest of the season before clearing him to play in 2007.

Morgan returned to the field, but an ankle injury sidelined him after only three games. Rookie Jon Beason showed he was capable of handling Morgan's spot in the middle, and the Panthers parted ways with him after that. Morgan signed with the Saints and went through much of the 2008 offseason program in New Orleans.

But Morgan was slow in recovering from shoulder surgery and missed his family. He decided football wasn't worth it and walked away.

Now, the ending to the story is going to be different, and that is Morgan's choice. He knows the situation better than any of us, and this is what he has decided.

"Believe me, I have three young children, and if I were at all concerned about this, I wouldn't be going back on the field," Morgan said.

It has been three years since Morgan has had a concussion. He says he feels better than he has since right before his rookie training camp. He says -- and keep in mind Morgan always has been a humble guy -- that the Saints or whatever team he plays for are going to "get one heck of a football player."

You hope he's right. Then you pray he's making the right decision.

Pat Yasinskas covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter