Forrest Gregg recalls an NFL culture of accepting concussions


Pro Football Hall of Famer Forrest Gregg, who played offensive line in the NFL from 1956 to 1971, is now suffering from Parkinson’s disease. And he wonders how much playing football — and playing at a time when the game had a very different attitude toward injuries — contributes to his current health problems.

Gregg told Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that in playing 188 consecutive games he’s sure he played through concussions, although he has no idea how many. And he says that in those days, no one thought of getting knocked unconscious as tantamount to suffering a serious brain injury.

You didn’t think anything about it,” Gregg said. “You heard about people getting knocked out all the time. If you watch any cowboy movie, how many times has Roy Rogers knocked somebody out? You didn’t think anything of it. That was just part of the game of football. You might get knocked out.”

In addition to serious concussions, Gregg wonders how much the thousands of sub-concussive hits he took might have contributed to his developing Parkinson’s. Gregg noted that the head slap was legal when he played, and defensive linemen would routinely smack him upside the head.

“I heard bells ringing,” Gregg said of head slaps. “Deacon Jones was the fastest, the quickest. He would double his slap. Pow, pow! He came at you with the right, then the left.”

Gregg was labeled “the greatest player I’ve ever coached” by Vince Lombardi, and that was in large part because Gregg savored tough, physical play. Now Gregg wonders if that tough, physical play has taken its toll on his brain.

9 responses to “Forrest Gregg recalls an NFL culture of accepting concussions

  1. This guy has to be pushing 75-80 by now. Sorry but getting older and with it the resulting problems are not all to blame on a football career. These guys all made the choice to play instead of getting a normal job.

  2. Torts and medical liability is what has driven up the cost of healthcare. This means medical malpractice lawsuits.
    The lawsuits brought by the players and the union probably cost the NFL hundreds of millions of dollars, they will have to make that money back somehow and they will do it by jacking up ticket prices and items at the stadium and online.
    The players, and mostly their union are what is screwing up the game and is causing how expensive it is.
    If the PLAYERS weren’t so greedy then ticket prices wouldn’t be bad at all.

  3. We may not like it but with all the attention on injuries the future of the NFL is going to change to a less violent game. We protect the QB to a point that he could play without pads or a helmet and the receivers will not be touched until they have the ball tucked away and heaven protect his head from being touched.

    Those of us that watched football back in the Lombardi days when running over your opponent was the norm where as today it is how well your touchdown dance is done. The game has changed to the point where it matters little to me to the future of the new game of football.

  4. Getting your bell rung – knock out shots – etc. Fans and players all love it… I agree that he’s old – and he’s just questioning if his play could have caused it.

    You don’t hear too many of these guys say they would NOT have played (and gotten the fame, money and adoration of fans) had they known then what they know now.

    If the NFL knew about this a decade ago… and did nothing about it – bad things are gonna happen – book it.

    Really sucks to, as I love the game – I see fewer kids playing youth football now as a result of these brain injury concerns. Our program used to have 450 in 2009 and now it’s dropped to 150. Many are putting their kids in lacrosse.

  5. This may sound goofy but maybe they should pad the outside of the helmet so it’ll offer some more protection instead the weapon it has become.

  6. chazzmon says: Jul 8, 2012 4:23 PM

    This may sound goofy but maybe they should pad the outside of the helmet so it’ll offer some more protection instead the weapon it has become.


    Not crazy. It may not be padding, but some kind of softer outer layer over the existing helmet. One that protects the head but doesn’t increase the force of hitting with the head. Boxing gloves got thicker padding over the years haven’t they? The NFL has taken steps and should continue to make the inside of the helmet safer for taking hits. But they have nothing to address the outside of the helmet which some players use as weapon. It adds weight to the head and is like wearing a boxing glove with rock on the outside of it. I think the answer is similar to soft walls in NASCAR. We need to make “soft” style helmets that have soft, flexible exterior and interior but a hard core. Soft walls are able to take a blow and reduce damage to the car, driver and wall. Which is the helmet, head inside the helmet, and the player being hit by the helmet in our scenario. They achieve this by using a material that gives way to blow absorbing force when contact happens. Then it springs back to it’s original shape immediately after contact and disperses force away from the wall. So when the contact happens very little force makes it through the core and interior of the helmet before the force like a yo-yo at the end of it’s string, suddenly springs back and pushes the force of the blow back through the core and exterior of the helmet.

  7. Something that a few teams still stress…the Bengals being one of them. But it’s generally a lost fundamental principle anymore. Is an extreme focus on strengthening the neck in the weight room. The stronger the neck is more stable the head is when taking or giving a blow. It lessens the “snap-back” or whiplash effect that causes some concussions. It’s starting to make a big comeback though. More teams are starting to increase their focus on the neck in strength training.

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