Former NFL running back Dorsey Levens, an actor and aspiring producer of documentaries, has gotten started with a topic he knows well: The phenomenon of football players playing football after suffering concussions.
The film, called Bell Rung, features interviews with men who have suffered the effects of serious blows to the head, and who still want to keep playing.
Per CNN.com, Eagles cornerback Ellis Hobbs explains during the film the 2009 injury that resulted in his cervical spine mimicking a jelly donut, with surgeons going through the front of his neck and moving his voice box out of the way in order to insert a cadaver vertebra into place “like a Jenga piece.”
But the more intriguing revelation from Hobbs comes when he talks about the safety film the NFL sent to all 32 teams after the October 17 rash of helmet-to-helmet hits, which included a severe concussion being suffered by Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson after a collision with Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson.
“Not 10 minutes after that film, we went into the defensive meeting and the D coordinator [Sean McDermott] got up and said, ‘Nothing changes about us. Nothing changes in your guys’ mentality,’” Hobbs told Levens. “I mean, we all knew that anyway because we want jobs. I don’t really see anybody with a job who can’t tackle.”
Still, the fact that Hobbs would so candidly admit that the man in charge of the team’s defense would essentially say “ignore what you just saw” is surprising. (McDermott was fired after the season, with head coach Andy Reid explaining that the shadow of the late Jim Johnson was too large for McDermott to fill.)
Levens, who believes that players were more willing to be candid with him because he played the game at the NFL level, explained the mindset that keeps players from reporting concussions and/or that drives them to want to keep playing after suffering head injuries. “When you’re in the league, you don’t want to ruffle any feathers,” Levens told CNN.com. “You don’t want to worry about endorsement deals. You don’t want to stick your foot in your mouth. There’s a small opportunity to make a lot of money in this league, and you’ve got to capitalize on it. We all know that one slip of the tongue can cost you millions, literally, so I think guys are like, ‘I’ll give you a little bit, but I’m not going to give you what I really feel.’”
Hobbs says in the film that he’s still contemplating retirement after having a second neck surgery on a different vertebra following a hit in 2010. And Hobbs explained the mentality that prompts players to get up and keep going.
“Even though this dude outweighs me by 50 pounds easily, get up,” Hobbs said in reference to a collision he once endured with Ravens running back Willis McGahee. “You better not stumble. You better not cry. You better not put your head down. Jog and act as if nothing happened. All you’re thinking about is, ‘Take it like a man.’”
The current goal is (or at least should be) to convince players that it’s far more manly to tap out after being nearly knocked out. But with evidence of defensive coordinators like McDermott shrugging off the league-issued warnings only days after a player on McDermott’s team suffered a serious injury, there’s an argument to be made that, at least in some cities, lip service is being paid to the important issue of head trauma.