WASHINGTON – The NFL is still reeling from the death of Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, one of the greatest players in NFL history.
Seau’s family has decided to donate his brain for research into repetitive head injuries. He was found dead Wednesday. An autopsy concluded he shot himself in the chest.
Seau played most of his career with the Chargers. But another football legend also understands the physical and mental effect the sport can have on players years after the game is over for them.
At a critical time in the NFL, as the league weighs player protection against the brutal nature of the contact sport, former Redskins great Dexter Manley says there are some faults, like bad equipment.
But he also says he thinks the league has done everything in its power to make this game safer, and it’s headed in the right direction.
“When I was playing football, they wouldn’t call it concussions,” Manley tells WTOP. “They’d call it ‘dingers.’ So I think coaches and those type of people would want to question your manhood by saying, hey, you’re a weak guy.”
That macho-ism gave Manley and his fellow players the sense that they were gladiators. They felt like they had to go back out on the field, no matter what injuries they may have sustained while playing.
Manley says people are smarter now than they were when he played for the Redskins. Extra people on the sidelines watch for concussions and other physical injuries — a step in the right direction to improve the game’s safety overall.
“It’s a great sport,” he says. “It’s the greatest sport in this country. For those young kids who are playing that USA football ’cause parents want these kids to play football…they want to know their kid’s going to be safe.”
When Manley played, head slaps and other physical moves were a way to gain an advantage over the other team. Because of this, the current health of Manley’s teammates and other players from that time period is questionable.
Manley says he’s seen many players who don’t know how to take care of themselves. And it isn’t just physical remnants of the game that are hurting them.
“I think that they need to get smarter and get the appropriate help,” he says. “When the game is over, you have to make some adjustments.”
Manley says a lot of former players become depressed, a symptom of the lack of transition between football life and what Manley calls ‘civilian life.’
“I’d like to see that somehow or another, there’d be some sort of program for making the transition to civilian life,” he says. “After being in football all your life, and now it’s over, how do you make that adjustment?”