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Rodney Harrison fears the long-term effects of his concussions

Rodney Getty Images

The latest episode of Costas Tonight explores among other things the subject of safety in football. Among the guests, Rodney Harrison of Football Night in America reflects on his 15-year playing career and the many concussions he suffered.

But while Harrison isn’t suing anyone or otherwise shifting blame for the consequences of a lifetime of football, he genuinely is concerned about his health as he ages.

“I’m scared,” Harrison said.  “I’m 40 years old and I am scared. . . . My first year, in 1994, one of the first weeks of training camp, I hit Natrone Means.  He’s a 245-pound running back.  I was knocked out.  And not once in my first five or six years in the league did I even hear the word ‘concussion.’

“And even on the field playing, I would get up, hit someone, the entire stadium was spinning around, and I would would walk to the sideline, they would hold me out for one play, give me two Advil, and tell me to get back into the game.  The NFL, if they’re guilty of anything, it’s the lake of awareness that they brought and the lack of education.  They never told us or explained to us or even let us know what a concussion was.  I had no idea until just recently.

“And even since I retired from the Patriots in 2008, I would still experience headaches. I would play on Sunday and I would experience headaches up until Tuesday and Wednesday. And even now, at times there’s a sense of loneliness, a sense of isolation. Some anxiety problems. . . .

“It’s tough and people have to understand that these players — yeah, a lot of their agendas, it’s based on money — but a lot of these players are really, really suffering, Bob, and this stuff is for real because I’m experiencing it now.  I’m scared to death.  I have four kids, I have a beautiful wife, and I’m scared to death what may happen to me 10, 15 years from now.”

It’s strong, honest stuff from Rodney. For the entire show, tune in to Costas Tonight on the NBC Sports Network, debuting Thursday at 9:00 p.m. ET.

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44 Responses to “Rodney Harrison fears the long-term effects of his concussions”
  1. monkeesfan says: Jan 30, 2013 7:30 PM

    Back in 2000 Keith Olbermann interviewed former quarterback Chris Miller and he said basically the same thing as what Rodney is saying here – in 2013 Miller is fine with no signs of concussion repercussions. Be optimistic, Rodney.

  2. jakec4 says: Jan 30, 2013 7:30 PM

    I remember seeing Rodney Harrison’s name on plenty of NFL’s dirtiest players lists back in the day. He rang a lot of other guy’s bells in a questionable way, and some of those guys are probably experiencing the same type of thing Harrison is talking about.

  3. mikep363839 says: Jan 30, 2013 7:34 PM

    Rodney Harrison is as real as it gets… Prayin for you bro

  4. mikep363839 says: Jan 30, 2013 7:36 PM

    Dirty player or great teammate however you look at it Rodney Harrison is as real as it gets.. Praying for you bro

  5. rg3sus says: Jan 30, 2013 7:51 PM

    Appreciate the fact he isn’t blatantly blaming the NFL for his concussions, but I do get bothered when the ex players say “they didn’t tell us about concussions”. I’m sorry but my entire life I’ve known that getting hit in the head is a bad thing. I feel like it doesn’t have to be said. Does the NFL need to tell players that water will make them wet?

  6. britishraven says: Jan 30, 2013 7:56 PM

    I find this sort of thing completely ridiculous. I played rugby from 1992 (when I was 7) until 2004 with absolutely zero medical coaching staff of any level whatsoever. You knew, even at 8,9,10 years old what a concussion was and what the symptoms were. To claim that a fully grown adult had no idea is, at best, incredible ignorance and at worst the biggest lie I’ve ever heard.

    Most people experience isolation and loneliness Rodney. The difference is we haven’t been paid 40+ million before we were 35 years old

  7. truthfactory says: Jan 30, 2013 7:59 PM

    No one is doubting him… But now that players know, they are not quitting football. He wouldnt have done anything differently even if he knew the risk. Which i still have a hard time believing that people are surprised that repetitive trauma to the head could cause problems down the road

  8. bergthe1st says: Jan 30, 2013 8:04 PM

    But… You used to hit dudes HARD. Way harder than “necessary”. I never said you were dirty. In fact I was a legit fan of yours (Chargers and Pats days). But it was your game to hit dudes as hard as you could. I just can’t blame the league for any problems you might have with your body/brain down the road.

  9. lanham4eve says: Jan 30, 2013 8:16 PM

    I wonder how scared all the players he hurt are for their long term future ?

  10. JSpicoli says: Jan 30, 2013 8:19 PM

    How are the long term ramifications of the fame and money he got for his sacrifice?

    You can’t have it both ways. This is really getting old.

  11. chocopoppy says: Jan 30, 2013 8:22 PM

    Here’s the problem — even if you inform the heck out of players about long term effects, NO ONE WILL QUIT. So while I feel bad for these guys, I really do, stop blaming the NFL.

  12. jokersmokermidnight says: Jan 30, 2013 8:27 PM

    I’m am in know way discrediting what Rodney is going through or what other former NFL players in terms of symptoms caused by head trauma. I understand symptoms such as memory loss, lessened mental capacity and motor skills caused by concussions. My question is there conclusive evidence that head trauma is attributed to loneliness and other emotional side effects that Rodney describes? It seems to be up to debate. Or I could be totally wrong. I have never played contact football nor have been in the military but the similarities between the two seem to beyond just lingo, “going to battle, brothers in arm, fight for the guy next to you, war in the trenches”,etc. The most similar aspect I see from both is the bond and brotherhood created through discipline, pain, loss and victory. Sometimes the greatest bonds and unity are created in those ways. I’ve read many accounts of people in the military, ie seals, etc. that express the same emotional symptoms that Rodney is experiencing because of that loss of brotherhood once they have left the military. I’d be curious to know what people thought of that as being a cause for some of the emotional side effects as opposed to it just being about head trauma.

  13. selldannysell says: Jan 30, 2013 8:28 PM

    rg3sus says: Jan 30, 2013 7:51 PM

    Appreciate the fact he isn’t blatantly blaming the NFL for his concussions, but I do get bothered when the ex players say “they didn’t tell us about concussions”. I’m sorry but my entire life I’ve known that getting hit in the head is a bad thing. I feel like it doesn’t have to be said. Does the NFL need to tell players that water will make them wet?

    ———————————————————

    Go back and read what he said. Doctors would give him Advil instead of sitting him down. Basically, the NFL took the stance, “You just got your bell rung,” when it was something worse. Apparently, no one in the league really took concussions seriously and now players are suffering for it.

  14. buccaboo says: Jan 30, 2013 8:46 PM

    Rodney, why do you always hit Tony Dungy on SNF?

  15. smithopher says: Jan 30, 2013 8:51 PM

    As a jets fan I always hated this guy, along with the rest of the patriots, but I wish for the best for him in this situation. I’ve struggled with anxiety and the loneliness and all that on my own, so I know how tough it is. Good luck mr Harrison, I hope you are able to enjoy seeing those kids grow up.

  16. pftfollower says: Jan 30, 2013 8:51 PM

    Dude used his head as a weapon to attempt to deliver head injuries to other players. plain and simple.

    That hit with nations means did not scare you. If it truly did, you would not have continued to use your head as a weapon for years.

  17. ampats says: Jan 30, 2013 8:56 PM

    britishraven,

    Seriously,you are comparing your rugby “career from ages 7-19 based on your info” of non concussion to a former SS who has played in the NFL for 12 + years ???

    Just another reason why the NFL needs to stay in the USA !

  18. thegreatgabbert says: Jan 30, 2013 9:06 PM

    Well, at least it’s Florio who will be sitting next to him when he cracks, and not us.

  19. chattanola says: Jan 30, 2013 9:33 PM

    I like Rodney Harrison, he’s a straight shooter. He is always candid and straightforward (to the point of being blunt) but, I’m rather surprised that he came out with these statements that suggest no liability on his part.

    Also, he says “… And even now, at times there’s a sense of loneliness, a sense of isolation. Some anxiety problems. . . .” You’re not alone there Rodney, billions of dollars in pills are being sold to those of us who claim those symptoms and have never had a concussion.

    I’m sorry for the fears clouding over him and do not wish that on anybody, but asked if they’d do it all over again, 99.99% of the players say “yeah!”

  20. nonjaghater says: Jan 30, 2013 9:37 PM

    Never heard the word concussion in his first six years in nfl? might have heard it in college but felt groggy at the time. but not in the nfl hmmm. lawsuit pending

  21. billbrasky72 says: Jan 30, 2013 9:40 PM

    Between him and Costas, I would guess Costas would have been the one who sustained the most head trauma in his lifetime.

  22. ballinsohard says: Jan 30, 2013 9:42 PM

    I don’t buy it. I remember being 8-years-old in the early 90s playing rec league soccer and I knew what a concussion was. The NFL could have done more to promote awareness and protect the players, but I just don’t buy in to these arguments that it is all the league’s fault and the players didn’t know any better.

  23. incredabill says: Jan 30, 2013 9:49 PM

    Is he worried about the long term effects of steroid use?

  24. 1look2013 says: Jan 30, 2013 10:12 PM

    Maybe its just Rodney’s personality, but there have been times when I’ve thought he was disrespectful to Coach Dungy on SNF.

  25. clu1perceiver says: Jan 30, 2013 10:21 PM

    My question to Harrison now is, have you overcome your fears enough to get a neurological baseline exam or other medical help to let you know where you stand?

  26. 69finfan says: Jan 30, 2013 10:23 PM

    I wonder if anybody has to explain to Nascar, Indy Car, Formula One drivers etc. that hitting a wall at 200 mph could be dangerous.

  27. nyjetsfan08 says: Jan 30, 2013 10:49 PM

    Here’s the problem. Even if these guys sign waivers, the court of public opinion will still find the NFL guilty. The legal system can’t sue the NFL. But the public will hear about these NFL players wit seriously medical ailments and look to the NFL to do something. The NFL can try to make the game safer, but there is a point, an invisible line, they will cross where the game will be unrecognizable.

    I don’t think it’ll go away. Look at combat sports. They are still around, but their popularity is relatively nil, save for a huge fight/card. If the public turns on this league of modern gladiators for good, at least the AFL might actually be able to challenge the NFL.

  28. kd75 says: Jan 31, 2013 12:19 AM

    He didn’t know what a concussion was?

    Where did he go to college?

    He didn’t understand that running headfirst into a brick wall 15 times a day may be detrimental to his health???

  29. craigmaitland says: Jan 31, 2013 12:55 AM

    Doesn’t fear the steroids though? Interesting.

  30. jprcox says: Jan 31, 2013 1:21 AM

    Why all of a sudden (this season) is this crazy push to weaken the strong physical play in the NFL. Don’t get me wrong, this has been discussed in previous seasons, but with the president and all these people coming to the forefront, its like the fans are getting a strong “sell” on why they will start to make sure players are hit less-hard.

    This is nuts. I hope fans stand up to this and tell the NFL they should develop better armoring – but leave the hits alone. That is 1/2 the fun of this game.

  31. craigmaitland says: Jan 31, 2013 1:39 AM

    Rodney Harrison fears the long-term effects of his concussions… But not steroids? If he was that concerned over his body he wouldn’t have been using roids.

  32. cadub49er says: Jan 31, 2013 2:05 AM

    Maybe that’s why he says so many idiotic things on Sunday Night Football.

  33. CKL says: Jan 31, 2013 2:26 AM

    I swear this is like playing telephone sometimes…Rodney never took steroids.
    He took HgH.

    And as far as I know he’s the only one ever to be suspended for it because you have to admit to taking it since there’s no test. They had credit card receipts that his card purchased it but any good lawyer could argue that doesn’t mean he took it.

  34. louhudson23 says: Jan 31, 2013 5:35 AM

    Joker, these symptoms are most assuredly associated with post concussion syndrome. Having an inner ear disorder diagnosed to likely have resulted from head trauma, I am very familiar with the symptoms of anguish,crushing despair ,frustration and loneliness,and indeed,suicide. I can not state strongly enough how powerful these feelings were. Debilitating is the only word I can use.Fortunately,my condition was secondary to damage to the brain itself and has proven largely treatable.In my case,medication has rectified things a great deal.These medications are not in any way antidepressants or other “mind drugs’. My symptoms were not psychological in origin and were not psychologically treated,by drugs or therapy.They were caused by a physical condition,not a mental one.

  35. DonRSD says: Jan 31, 2013 6:42 AM

    Ever wonder if the sense of isolation cones from playing football your entire life. Being lauded as the best, then have it all end one day and nothing to replace the adrenaline rush?!

    Just saying.

  36. zerored78 says: Jan 31, 2013 7:46 AM

    Not going to feel much sympathy. I’d happily accept those additional fears for a career in sports and millions of dollars.

    @nyjetsfan08

    I’ll have to see that actually happen to believe. I don’t believe anyone puts the NFL into the same category as combat sports. People are much further away from the violence and the players being in full body armor and helmets makes them seem even less human to viewers.

    I have seen people give up watching the NFL for many reasons, but the violence in the game has never been one of them.

  37. thewassabi says: Jan 31, 2013 8:13 AM

    Respect for not blaming the nfl, but really you didnt know the repercussions of getting hit in the head come on man. I knew about concussions when i was eight years old that was in 1997 and you had a college education, well at least you went to college lol. Does the nfl need to tell players that if they dont drink water they will get dehydrated!?

  38. thejohnsmith1122 says: Jan 31, 2013 8:26 AM

    What do they expect the NFL or teams to do? Go over the list of hundreds of injuries they sustain over the lifetime in the NFL on rookie day?

    Give Harrison a couple years after he retires from broadcasting and needs money. He’ll sue the NFL soon enough.

  39. hendawg21 says: Jan 31, 2013 8:26 AM

    This story is getting old and I have no sympathy for these athletes, and I say this because for everyone who has this claim look at the 100’s or so ex players who’ve lived long and decent lives, yes there are the aches and pains that come along with playing such a physical sport but that being said i’m sure there are many other occupations that are not athletics which present the employee with far more dangerous outcomes….i.e. fire fighters, police and the military to name a few and you now what i’ll bet you to a man none of them would say they’d change a thing and they’d do all again. And for those who are now saying they wouldn’t let they’re son play, well I guess you wouldn’t also let them hold any of the previous jobs I mentioned. I spent 15 years in the military and I knew from day one the possibilites/risk and yet I still did it and reenlisted time and time again not fearing those risk, but for the love my country…and these athletes are no different they play the game for the love of it and more so for the money and notoriety.

  40. jgava19 says: Jan 31, 2013 8:45 AM

    How about the long term effects of his big mouth?

  41. macbull says: Jan 31, 2013 9:01 AM

    Had Rodney Harrison used a ProCap on his helmet, there is a very good possibility he would not be worrying about the many concussions he suffered during his playing days.

    Bills safety, Mark Kelso and the 49ers OT, Steve Wallace were concerned enough about health of their brain that they made the decision to wear a ProCap…and it worked for them.

    IMO, all players should be wearing a ProCap, to help prevent the damage done to their brain, due to concussions.

  42. annes22 says: Jan 31, 2013 9:10 AM

    These guys all chose to play football and make millions. You do that, you accept the consequences or get out of the game. It’s a bit late after you finish playing to start suing the NFL and complaining.

  43. kimbo71006 says: Jan 31, 2013 9:18 AM

    I am sick and tired of everyone jumping on the money train (and that’s exactly what this is all about) concerning concussions or any other injury in the NFL.

    You knew this was a physical game.

    No one twisted your arm to sign that multi-million dollar contract.

    How is the NFL responsible for a decision YOU made?

    Why is the NFL responsible for informing you about what happens when YOU are injured? Can you read? Can’t you find out for yourself? Do you have to be force fed information about your own body by someone else?

    He says he doesn’t want to sue – but he is setting the groundwork for one with this article.

    Sour grapes.

    The NFL has made SURE that players now know everything they should no but is it stopping anyone from signing those multi-million dollar contracts – NOPE – and it never will.

    Accept responsibility for your own free will choices, YOU are the one that made them and YOU are the one that accepted the consequences.

    That’s sort of like me blaming my car for my speeding ticket…well, officer, no one told me that I shouldn’t press the pedal all the way down to the floor, I figured if it would let me press the pedal down then it must be ok.

    Yeah right.

  44. EJ says: Jan 31, 2013 9:36 AM

    I don’t get why all of these players keep saying that until recently they knew nothing about concussions? I was knocked out by a soft ball that was hit by my lumbering giant of an Uncle when I was 9 years old. I was given the diagnosis of having a concussion by the Doctors at the emergency room. That was when I was 9, I’m 34 years old now. That was 25 years ago when they were using the word concussion to diagnose a certain medical condition. At 9 years old I knew I received a concussion, which I was told was not good. So why is it that these players act clueless? Even if the NFL was hush hush about the concussions, the players still had Primary Doctors outside of the league, were they quiet about it too? Doubt it. Yeah, not too much was known about it, but they knew enough to know that too many was bad for your health. Mark Kelso wore an extra padded helmet because of concussions. I think this is all a ploy by some to get that big payday, not because they were left in the dark.

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