Seahawks LB K.J. Wright says NFL players, coaches need to push for culture change around brain injuries
The conversation surrounding brain injuries in the NFL gained new input last week from Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright, who said the league should require concussed players to sit out one game. It’s part of a larger culture shift that Wright – a seven-year veteran – says players and coaches need to have when it comes to the pressure to play through a concussion.
“Some guys liked it and some guys said there would be issues with it,” Wright told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Dave Grosby and Jim Moore of the reaction he received from his comment about missing one game. Wright sustained a concussion during the Seahawks’ loss to the Jaguars Dec. 10.
“But like I always say, you can’t mess with your health. The brain is something serious, and no football game is (more) important than your future and your well-being. So, I believe the NFL should really look into it – because a week is really, really fast to come back from a traumatized brain.”
A failure to complete the league’s current five-stage concussion protocol in the days following a diagnosis frequently sidelines players for a game – as was the case for Wright – but there is no requirement that players miss a game. A player could feasibly leave a game with a concussion and play the following week.
There were 224 diagnosed concussions in the NFL last year – down from 275 in 2015, but up from the previous three years. One reason for the increase could be a focus, on the part of teams, to more accurately report concussions.
A class-action lawsuit filed against the league in 2011 on behalf of 2,000 former players finally reached a $1 billion settlement in early 2017 (though the case landed back in court in September after players after it was alleged that nearly 90 percent of players in the 2011 lawsuit had yet to receive a payment).
As former players, and the families of former players, work to be compensated for long-term brain injuries, current players and league officials are working to limit risks inherent to the game of football. Still, players like Wright believe more can be done; the Seahawks veteran called on players and coaches to work together to change the culture around playing through injuries – especially brain injuries.
“If your instincts are, ‘I should play… while my head is hurting,’ that’s not smart. And we need to create a better culture, a better environment, to let guys know it’s OK to miss games. You’re not soft, it doesn’t make you more tough going out there playing with a brain injury. And so we need to do a better job as teammates and as coaches to let guys know, ‘Just be honest with yourself.’ Because it’s real selfish if you go out there and hurt yourself, reinjure your brain when it could have been avoided.”
Wright, 28, and his wife have an 18-month-old son. Asked by Moore whether or not he’ll let his son play football one day, Wright said he’d leave it up to son – but he hopes he’ll choose another path.
“I always say don’t let your kids play football, I tell that to everyone,” Wright said. “It’s a violent sport. And I would like for him to go in another direction, but if he chooses to play I’d be his biggest fan, but you know, hopefully as time goes on somehow it becomes more safe. But it’s still violent; it has its injuries. It’s a beautiful game, but at the same time, it’s pretty brutal.”
Wright also previewed Seattle’s regular season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, and tells Groz and Moore what it’s like to play against future Hall of Famer receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Listen to the entire interview embedded above.