Sure, awareness of concussions jolted awake as more than 4,500 former players sue the league over head injuries, and study after study points to long-term consequences from head injuries. Mark Rypien uses a tape recorder to remember basic conversations. Stephen Davis’ ears ring constantly. Clinton Portis is plagued by headaches. More than 300 former Redskins are among the plaintiffs.
“It’s much different now in comparison to what it was,” Shanahan said. “I remember a number of quarterbacks come to the sideline and you knew there was something wrong. They’d give him the old one-two-three finger test and they’d go back out there. Times have changed.”
But the fundamental culture that kept banged-up players on the field decades ago hasn’t changed. The players sound alike, from Len Hauss to Fletcher to Robert Griffin III. Only the generation changes. Leaving the field means putting your job up for grabs and, really, defeat.
Fletcher comes across as more enlightened than the average player about head injuries. Once he believed he had to lose consciousness to have a concussion; that’s changed. He’s heard about the troublesome studies, noticed the league’s shift to confront the issue.
But every incentive exists to find a way to disguise or play through injury. Even a concussion. Without that attitude, surviving the NFL’s ruthless world, much less 15 seasons, is impossible.
“I don’t want to think about it too much because I’m also in the midst of the season,” Fletcher said. “I don’t think you can think about it too much.”
But the price isn’t one even Fletcher knows.