Memory Loss, Headaches, Dizziness, Sensitivity To Light: Jamal Lewis Discusses The Lingering Effects Of His Concussion-filled Career

Jamal Lewis says he suffered over 10 concussions over the course of his football career, and more alarmingly and importantly, that he never really knew much about the immensity and symptoms of such head trauma until he’d reached the end of his decade-long run as an NFL player. Jamal Lewis joined WCNN in Atlanta to discuss life after football, specially about the lingering effects of head trauma on retired players. He touched on his fear for his short- and long-term future, the tough transition to retirement and the specific problems he deals with today. He also told the story of his final concussion, shedding some light on the nuances of the injury and its far-reaching impact mentally and physically.

If he’s worried about what might happen to him in the coming years:

“Oh yeah, most definitely. Especially with the Junior Seau issue and (Dave Duerson). The different situations that are happening — it’s like, why did these guys go down that road? And we need answers and we need to figure out a way within the NFL to actually help guys that’s suffering from post-concussion syndrome and give them an outlet.”

On the difficult transition players have to make from playing to retirement:

“You enjoy it, but it’s also a job. I think you enjoyed it when you was playing little league and college. But when you get to the pros, it’s more politics. It’s a bigger business. But at the same time, it’s like, when you’re done, you’ve lived a structured life since — I know I have since I was eight years old playing football. I didn’t get a chance to keep going to grandmother’s house in the summer time. It was football or track — something pertaining to sports  – where I had to go and handle. So it’s like you live a structured lifestyle for so long, to the point that when you are done, it’s like nobody’s there to tell you what to do and where to go. You don’t hear the horn blowing. You have nowhere to be at 7:50 in the morning and you don’t have that schedule.”

On the last concussion he suffered, which led to his retirement:

“What really caused my concussion was that first hit I took that season. Well, not the first hit, but the first big hit I took that season, which was in the first game. But I didn’t find out until 10 games later that I actually was suffering from post-concussion syndrome all season.”

On why his concussion wasn’t diagnosed in Week 1:

“Because I didn’t know the symptoms. I didn’t know what to look for. I didn’t know any of this stuff.

On how the medical staff didn’t know he had a concussion in that first game:

“Honestly, the reason they don’t know because within that first game they only took two running backs — Cleveland only took two running backs into that game. And that was James Davis (and me). So when I got knocked out and unconscious and I came back to the sideline — which I’ve said in many stories — I came back to the sideline, the other running back got hurt. So therefore it’s, ‘Hey, let’s go. Are you alright? OK, let’s go.’ But in the culture of the game, you wanna play anyway. But at the same time, if I woulda known that this could happen or 10 games later I was still gonna be suffering from this issue or this actual hit, I probably woulda made a decision of, ‘No, I’m not going back in the game.’”

On preventing concussions:

“You can’t prevent a concussion from happening. But what you can prevent is letting a guy go back out there and going and suffering the same thing again and it’s more damage.”

What he says to those who say players know the risks of playing in the NFL:

“For that critic, you can say really what you wanna say, but at the same time you’re talking about a silent killer. Hey, yeah, we know that this is a dangerous sport, but I don’t remember the last time somebody got killed on the field. But at the same time, it is a dangerous sport and we do play it and we love the game, but you still should, as a person, have the right to know: ‘Hey, if you do get a concussion or you are diagnosed with a concussion, these are the things that you need to watch for.’ And I think as a person — as a human being — you should have a right to know that.”

The effects he’s dealing with today:

“Oh yeah, your memory, headaches, dizziness. Your eyes get sensitive to the light. … You’re up all night. You can’t really sleep sometimes. A lot of that is stuff that a lot of people might deal with on a regular basis, just who knows why? But at the same time, these are things that an actual NFL player actually deals with — an ex NFL player or even one that’s playing now — you deal with that all the time. It’s even like with Junior Seau. Who knows what this guy was dealing with, but he was an icon. Who could he talk to? Who could he speak to? And those are the outlets that he probably didn’t have. People say, ‘Oh, what about his family?’ At the same time, these are the same people that possibly could have been part of the problem.”

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