AP survey: Concussions not most NFL players’ chief concern

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During a 15-year NFL career that sent him pinballing over the middle of the field too many times to count, absorbing hits as wicked as they come, former Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley endured injuries that literally ran from head to toe.

And while, by his own estimate, that included at least a dozen concussions, the only health issue that made him seriously contemplate quitting the game was a problem with a small bone in the middle of his foot in his fourth season.

“I told my wife, `This is it. I’m done. I can’t deal with this pain every day,”‘ Stokley said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Yet he pressed on. Eventually the foot pain subsided. The concussions? Those kept accumulating. Stokley, essentially, shrugged them off, despite the seemingly unending drumbeat of news about the dangers of head injuries. During his playing days, he was more worried about short-term effects than later-in-life ones.

“The thing with concussions is, usually, you’re out a week or two, and then you’re back fine,” said Stokley, 39, who caught passes from one of this week’s Super Bowl quarterbacks, Peyton Manning, while both were with the Broncos and, before that, the Indianapolis Colts. “But you mess your knee up, you’re out a year. You mess your shoulder up, you’re done for a year.”

That nonchalant attitude toward concussions that Stokley held while he was active in the league is not all that different from what was expressed by many current NFL players in an AP survey conducted this season and released Sunday. Less than half of the group – only 39 of the 100 players – said they are more worried about the long-term effects of concussions than those of other injuries.

Of the remaining 61 players, 20 either said they are not concerned at all about concussions or less concerned about them than other injuries, while 41 said the concern is equal for all injuries.

“Personally, I don’t think about head injuries. They don’t affect me,” said Nikita Whitlock, a New York Giants special teamer. “I wonder: What are my joints going to be like in 20 years? How will my knees hold up in 20 years? What about my shoulders and wrists? These are the real weak points of your body.”

That sort of sentiment was heard repeatedly by AP reporters, as if players were ignoring everything related to head trauma and football.

Just last week, a member of the Giants’ 2012 Super Bowl championship team who died at age 27, safety Tyler Sash, was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The disease is linked to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia.

Sash was just the latest CTE headline: The suicide of Pro Football Hall of Famer Junior Seau. The sudden retirement of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland. The concussion-related lawsuits brought by former players. Various safeguards added by the NFL, including attempts to increase in-game monitoring of head injuries and more vigilant policing of illegal hits.

During regular-season games, the NFL said Friday, there were 182 reported concussions, a 58 percent increase from a year ago.

And yet …

“Not worried,” Oakland Raiders running back Jamize Olawale said. “I think it’s blown out of proportion.”

“You can get a head injury from anywhere,” Houston Texans cornerback Charles James said. “A dude could sucker-punch me, and I could get the same injury I get from hitting a running back head-on.”

There is, to be sure, a segment of the NFL population that takes concussions and their consequences seriously.

A few players interviewed by the AP mentioned the ability to repair knees or hips, “but you can’t get a brain replacement.”

“I’m not trying to lose my memory. I need to know what’s going on in my life,” Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay said. “If you get hit in the head and have a concussion, you might forget who your son is, your momma is. I ain’t got time for that. … You can take the legs.”

As eight-year defensive end Chris Long of the Rams put it: “I try not to think about it, but the evidence seems to be mounting that we’re in trouble. Eight years in, the damage is done.”

Now out of the NFL for two years, Stokley was asked if he has any concussion symptoms.

His reply: “I’m not really wanting to discuss my standing right now.”

As the conversation continued, he noted that he thinks the NFL is improving how it handles head injuries. And that, in turn, is changing how concussions are discussed in the locker room.

“If a guy’s out for a couple weeks with a concussion, you’re not getting the same kind of stares you did 10 or 12 years ago,” he said. “It’s a serious injury, and they need to treat it like that.”

Bennett doesn’t fear backlash for skipping White House trip

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HOUSTON (AP) Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett says he is not worried about upsetting team owner Robert Kraft by not attending New England’s trip to the White House as Super Bowl champions.

Bennett said after the Patriots’ 34-28 win over the Falcons on Sunday night that he’s “not going to go” to the traditional meet-and-greet with the president. It will be the first visit of a Super Bowl champion to Washington since Donald Trump was sworn into office.

Trump’s positions have alienated some athletes, which has raised questions about whether some might choose to skip the trip while the new president is in office.

But Bennett said he isn’t concerned about it and thinks the team believes “in whatever I want to do.”

Kraft is a supporter of Trump and attended a celebration dinner in Washington for him the night before his inauguration.

Patriots’ Tom Brady earns 4th Super Bowl MVP trophy with epic comeback

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HOUSTON (AP) The greatest quarterback in NFL history led the biggest Super Bowl comeback to be the MVP on Sunday night.

Tom Brady rallied New England from a 25-point third-quarter deficit for a 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first overtime game in Super Bowl history to earn his fifth Super Bowl title and fourth MVP trophy.

“They’re all sweet,” he said. “They’re all different and this was just an incredible team and I’m just happy to be a part of it,” he said.

Brady threw touchdown passes of 5 and 6 yards in the second half and tied things at 28-28 when he connected withDanny Amendola on a 2-point conversion with 57 seconds left.

He then directed the drive in overtime which ended with a 2-yard run by James White to make the Patriots the first team to win a Super Bowl after trailing by more than 10 points.

“We all brought each other back,” he said. “We never felt out of it. It was a tough battle.”

His performance certainly wasn’t without its struggles. His incredible second half and overtime came after a first half where the Patriots managed just three points and he threw an interception which Robert Alford returned 82 yards for a touchdown. He was hurried and harassed for much of the games. The Falcons sacked him five times and hit him on another eight occasions.

He noted the beating he took when he was trying to recount the details of the comeback and couldn’t remember what the score was at one point in the rally.

“There was a lot of (stuff) that happened tonight,” he said. “I got hit pretty hard.”

His 466 yards passing are a Super Bowl record, surpassing the 414 yards Kurt Warner had 17 years ago. He also set a record for most passes completed in a Super Bowl with 43 and most attempts with 62.

He is the first to play in seven Super Bowls and the victory ties him with Charles Haley for most Super Bowl rings.

After all Brady has done in his career, was this his finest moment?

“Tom’s had a lot of great ones,” coach Bill Belichick said. “But, yeah tonight was one of them.”

It’s a triumphant end to a difficult season for Brady, who missed the first four games because of his “Deflategate” suspension and dealt with his mother Galynn Brady suffering through an undisclosed illness. The Super Bowl was the first game she’s attended all season.

“They’re all happy,” he said fighting back tears. “It’s nice to have everybody here and it’s going to be a great celebration tonight.”

He shared a quick moment with her right after the game, but was looking forward to more time with her in the upcoming days.

“It’s kind of madness after the game so I didn’t get much quality time with her but we’ll get it this week,” he said.

But he certainly wasn’t asking for sympathy for his rough road to this title though, chuckling when someone asked about the adversity the Patriots have gone through in the past couple of years.

“We’ve done pretty good over the last few years … so I don’t think anyone’s feeling bad for the Patriots,” he said. “I don’t think anyone feels bad for the Patriots.”

Brady also collected the MVP trophy in 2001, 2003 and 2014.

“It was just a lot of mental toughness by our team and we’re going to remember this one for the rest of our lives,” Brady said.

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