By Ryan McKee
Already a source of concern before the season began, head injuries have emerged as one of the major story lines of the 2010 NFL season. Just this weekend Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie joined the list of players knocked out of games with what is, essentially, a brain injury.
Made Man spoke with retired Pro Bowl wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and retired standout defensive back Jason Sehorn. Johnson was the first overall pick in the 1996 NFL Draft and played 11 seasons as wide receiver, the position that receives the most helmet-to-helmet hits. Sehorn played ten seasons as a cornerback and safety, positions known for dealing out those brutal hits. We caught up with them at the New Meadowlands Stadium while they were promoting the launch of Captain Morgan’s new One Million Poses Campaign.
What is your reaction to the NFL’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits?
Sehorn: As a defensive player, I have a kneejerk reaction. The game has been around for 100 hundred years. Suddenly one Sunday there are three violent hits and you want to change it? That’s the problem I have. They should take the time to develop a strategy to combat this over the offseason. Not just all-of-a-sudden decide to react after one Sunday. Last time I checked football is a violent game. The object is to get the man with the ball down. Sometimes the helmet-to-helmet thing is going to happen and it is definitely dangerous for the guy on the receiving end. However, you can’t make yet another rule on how not to tackle. In the last five years, they’ve said you can’t horse-collar. You can’t tackle quarterbacks below the knees. Oh, and this is the best one. If the official on the sideline deems that the ball wasn’t catchable by the receiver, you can’t tackle him. Never mind (that) I’m running full-speed and I can’t really deem if the ball is catchable or not. But you can tell from the sidelines?
Johnson: You know, guys are going to play aggressive. They’re going to do what they’re going to do to win. Hopefully no one else gets fined or suspended for this thing. It’s professional sports. You’re doing something you’ve been taught your entire life. There are a few guys doing things they shouldn’t, like leaving their feet on tackles. Like (Brandon) Meriweather in New England. He probably left his feet a few times when he shouldn’t. But for the most part, I think the game is pretty clean.
If you were playing now, do you think the fines would make a difference in how you play?
Sehorn: Nothing changes. The collisions aren’t going to change. The game makes you feel invincible. You work out and get big for a reason. It’s not so you can play tag with someone. When you’re going to tackle someone, nothing is going to change. The one thing that may change is the piling on at the end. Guys coming in late may think twice. When I see a teammate of mine on a guy and the whistle hasn’t blown yet, it’s perfectly legal for me to come in and hit him. Now guys may think twice about doing that.
Johnson: I don’t see it being any different. Guys get hurt because they didn’t train correctly in the off-season. If I played now, I’m pretty confident I’d be doing the things necessary not to get hurt. Younger guys forget to hit the weight room as much as they should in the off-season.
There seem to be more concussions this season. Do you think the NFL is being overly cautious or have there always been this many and only now is the NFL recognizing it?
Sehorn: I have no idea. All I know is we didn’t have these problems six years ago. I don’t know what’s different though. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t say.
Johnson: Concussions have always been there. They’re just paying attention to it more now since the rules have been cracked down some. In the past you’d say, ‘Oh I got a concussion’ and it’d be no big deal. But now the moment you say you don’t feel well, you’re out.
Did you ever play through a possible concussion you shouldn’t have?
Sehorn: Never. I think maybe some guys now think they have a concussion when they get their bell rung. That’s not something a coach or trainer should speculate on. If a guy says he’s hurt, that’s what it is.
Johnson: No, I don’t think I even had a concussion. I’ve been dinged. But it was one of those deals where I just went to the sideline for a few plays and then I was fine to go back in. There wasn’t an instance where I felt I wasn’t okay to go back in but the coaches put me back in anyway. I got hit in the head plenty and would feel woozy, but never where I had to go in overnight for crazy neurological testing or anything.
(Ryan McKee is a freelance writer in New York City.)