Three months ago, Stephen Davis visited a neurologist.
Gaps began appearing in the 38-year-old’s short-term memory in the previous year and a half. Chats with his wife, DeeDee, from a few minutes before, slipped away. He forgot activities with their four children. Same with paying bills.
Davis, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who played seven seasons with the Washington Redskins, started taping conversations to retain basic details.
The neurologist’s assessment wasn’t encouraging.
“Looking at the results and they’re not that good,” Davis said in a phone interview Wednesday from Columbia, S.C. “I need to get special treatment, further treatment to try and get it taken care of.
“A lot of things scare me a whole lot, and it bothers me because there isn’t no telling what day I’ll forget everything.”
Last week, Davis sued the NFL over concussions sustained during his 11-year career that also included stops with the Carolina Panthers and St. Louis Rams. There are 102 lawsuits covering 2,653 former players, according to a review by The Washington Times. More than 200 of them played for the Redskins.
Davis, who retired in 2008, can’t remember how many concussions he sustained, hits that left him seeing little white dots and asking teammates to remind him of the play call. Two, three, even four concussions every other game, he guessed. Trainers had him count down from 100 and waved a pen in front of his eyes, he said.
“The coaches and doctors try to get you back on the field regardless of if you’re hurt or not hurt or have a concussion,” Davis said. “It’s more about getting you back on the field than making sure you’re OK.
“If you could put your hand on your nose, you were good to go back in.”
Today, Davis needs a television or other background noise on to drown constant ringing in his ears. There are “real bad” headaches. Blurred vision. He hates to be in sunlight. Driving is challenging.
The man who rushed for 8,052 yards and 65 touchdowns has a tough time getting out of bed and in and out of cars. He’ll need knee replacement. He can’t lift his arms above his shoulders or walk or stand for extended periods.
Like the other lawsuits, Davis’ complaint, filed with four other ex-players, accuses the NFL of concealing the long-term effects of concussions. The NFL has maintained that player safety has long been a priority and the lawsuits are without merit.
Davis believes the NFL’s rule changes and heightened awareness of concussions since 2010 are good steps, but the era of players before the adjustments shouldn’t be forgotten.
“I just want to be fair,” Davis said. “Football is a contact sport. We all know that. It has its consequences. But the thing is that we were put in situations where if you’re not on the field, you won’t make this team.”
Davis still helps coach youth football around Columbia. His 14-year-old son wants to play, something Davis won’t stop.
“I will tell him the cons and pros of it. Everything he sees,” Davis said. “I sit him down every day and say, ‘These are the things that can possibly happen to you.’ “
Knowing what Davis does today, would he change his career?
“I would’ve went out of bounds a lot more,” Davis said.
• Nathan Fenno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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