Aaron Rodgers opens up about concussions

Ryan Wood
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is pulled to his feet by guard Josh Walker after having his helmet knocked off during a sack against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The NFL could have every possible protocol in place to prevent concussions, but it won’t matter unless players honestly police themselves.

That was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ perspective on concussion prevention, an issue plaguing the league. Rodgers spoke with sports personality Bill Simmons on his new HBO show “Any Given Wednesday,” and the two-time MVP didn’t shy away from the concussion topic.

“The biggest obstacle,” Rodgers said, “I think would be the mindset of players. ... They watch every player. There’s one up in the booth, and we have a number of doctors on the sidelines watching concussions. The helmets and the pads are as safe as they can possibly get them at this point, but the players feeling comfortable self-monitoring.

“If you have one, telling somebody about it.”

Rodgers’ perspective on concussions is similar to what teammates shared with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in December.

Concussion awareness has never been higher in the league. It has grown exponentially in recent years. As education increases, a player’s “warrior mentality” hasn’t faded.

“I think guys are more aware of long-term effects,” outside linebacker Julius Peppers said in December, “but these guys are still warriors and gladiators. So sometimes they want to fight through it. If you think you might be dinged, you want to keep yourself out there. You may not tell anybody. The culture is that, you know.

“Some guys may feel a little dinged up top, but they won’t say anything. It may take a while for that part of it to not be a part of the game, but I think as far as the awareness and the protocol, has been a positive change.”

Related: Rodgers duo wins ESPY for Hail Mary

Sometimes, Rodgers said, it can be difficult for players to monitor their own concussions symptoms, even if they want to. Rodgers has had two concussions in his career, he said, and both came with “completely different” symptoms.

In each, he stayed in the game immediately after the injury.

The first concussion, Rodgers said, happened in the 2010 season when the Packers traveled to Washington. Rodgers remembers Washington linebacker London Fletcher being one of three defenders to hit him almost simultaneously. He said his left eye went “silver metallic,” and he could only see out of his right.

Rodgers stayed in the game, even scrambling for 15 yards on the next snap. He started the next week against the Miami Dolphins.

A second concussion happened later in the 2010 season when the Packers traveled to the Detroit Lions. Once again, Rodgers did not leave the game — at least not immediately. Rodgers doesn’t remember what happened after his concussion, but he knows he remained in the game even after referee Gene Steratore checked him on the field.

“I got up,” Rodgers said, “and my chinstrap was across my nose. You could see Gene Steratore, one of my favorite referees, and he kind of comes over to me, and he’s like, ‘Hey, are you OK?’ I don’t remember this, but I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine.’ There was a timeout called, went over to the sideline, and I think I waved off, ‘Oh, I’m good. I’m good.’

“It’s just kind of what’s built into you,” Rodgers said. “I went back out there for a couple plays, and I couldn’t call the plays, and they ended up getting me out of there.”

Rodgers clarified he could call plays, but only because he recited the words through his headset. By the time he was at the line of scrimmage before the snap, Rodgers said, he already forgot the play. If he remembered, Rodgers said, he had a wide-open receiver for a possible touchdown.

The Packers soon decided to remove Rodgers from the game, inserting backup Matt Flynn. The Packers lost 7-3. A couple months later, they won Super Bowl XLV.

Even with improvements to player safety, Rodgers believes concussions will continue to be a byproduct of football’s inherent violence. Instead of prevention, he said, the key is better treating players who have dealt with concussions.

“We can’t have any more situations like we’ve had the last 10 years,” Rodgers said, “where you’re having guys either take their own lives or they end up passing and they’ve been dealing with this on a major level. And then have a league that doesn’t recognize there’s a connection and we need to do something about it.

“If we can’t do anything else with player safety, which they’re doing a ton taking care of guys who are in dangerous positions down the field and quarterbacks and guys who are in compromised situations, then we need to look at what’s going on the backend and how we’re taking care of our guys who are moving on and have dealt with a lot of head injuries.” and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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