London Fletcher discusses revelation of previously undisclosed 2012 concussion

August 22, 2013

London Fletcher, who has played 240 consecutive games, returns for his 16th NFL season. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher revealed Thursday that he suffered a concussion that he and the team never publicly disclosed last preseason, and said lingering effects from the collision that caused the concussion plagued him until late in the 2012 season.

Fletcher spoke to reporters during the Thursday morning open locker room session and discussed a Sports Illustrated feature story that came out the same day and first revealed the concussion.

Fletcher suffered the concussion during a hit in a preseason game against Buffalo. He missed several days of practice and the second preseason game against Chicago because he “wasn’t feeling well,” Coach Mike Shanahan said at the time.

Fletcher on Thursday shared what happened in that preseason game.

“I got it in the Buffalo game, maybe about the second-to-last play before I was coming out of the game. I got hit, tight end route down the seam,” Fletcher said. “The safety was coming to make the play. He hit me, and then my head hit the ground. So, I don’t know if it was from the hit from him or from the ground. I got a little dizzy. I’ve experienced that in games before. I got my bearings back together, played a couple more plays and we were coming out the game anyway, and that was it. Once I got back to the sideline, I had a little blurry vision, told the doctor about it, they took me in for an evaluation. I think it was close to halftime anyway. They took me in for an evaluation, felt like I needed further evaluation, and maybe the next day, or a day later, they did the baseline test again. My numbers weren’t normal as they should’ve been, so we continued to do more evaluation, more tests. And it was determined that I had a mild concussion. I didn’t play the following week against Chicago. I passed my baseline tests the following week when we played Indianapolis. My baseline numbers were actually better than when I took it previous years. So, all that stuff was fairly good. I ended up playing in the game and didn’t have any issues. So, that was it as far as the concussion.”

The Buffalo game took place on Aug. 9, 2012, and Fletcher didn’t practice when his team returned to work, but Shanahan said he received a “veterans’ day off.” After Fletcher missed the Chicago game on Aug. 18, 2012, Shanahan said, “London’s still not feeling right. I’m not sure exactly why, but any time London says he’s not feeling very good, you know something’s wrong, so we kept him out.”

Asked what “not feeling very good,” meant, Shanahan said, “When somebody says they’re not feeling very good, I don’t get into detail. Any time a guy has started over 200 games, he tells me he’s not feeling very good, you listen to him.” Pressed further, Shanahan said, “I’m not going to tell you what he told me.”

Fletcher returned to action on Aug. 22. Shanahan was asked what had been wrong with Fletcher, and the coach said, “C’mon, let’s not go down this road again.”

Asked on Thursday why he didn’t reveal the concussion last year, Fletcher said, “I never said, ‘No.’ I just didn’t tell y’all. I’m an old-school player. I’m not going to tell an opponent about anything that I have going on. It’s just, when you play football, you have things that bother you all the time. If I was to go around and tell you guys about everything that’s bothering me, you’ll be writing a story all the time. I don’t believe in giving the opponent any prior knowledge of the situation that might’ve been affecting me, so if I don’t have to tell y’all, I won’t tell y’all.”

London Fletcher
London Fletcher during training camp this season. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Fletcher never missed another game. He said that although he passed the baseline test, was cleared for action and never missed another game, he did experience what were described as “balance issues” off and on. Fletcher said he never told the team about the balance issues.

“I had some lingering – not necessarily lingering and stuff – but little balance stuff,” he said. “When you hear balance, that’s the wrong word to use. I think people hear it they think, ‘Ooh, balance.’ I wasn’t wobbly or anything like that, just maybe would have a little sway. I would notice it. Nobody else would notice it. I never told the team anything about that.”

Fletcher said the balance issues eventually were traced to a neck injury that he suffered during the same preseason collision that caused the concussion. That conclusion was drawn from extensive neurological testing that Fletcher underwent on Oct. 25.

“Prior to the diagnosis, I was in my mind, like, ‘Man, what’s wrong with me?’” Fletcher recalled. “I knew I didn’t have a concussion, but you’re concerned about your future. I’m seeing all these former players and some of the deals they’ve got going on, and you’re like ‘man, what’s going on?’ I knew my neck had something going on there, so you’re not excited about throwing your neck up in there, making tackles and things like that, having that irritation. But once I got that situation taken care of, I was able to relax from a mental standpoint and my play, for the last seven, eight ball games, I played some really, really good football.”

Fletcher admitted regret over not telling the Redskins about the balance issues. Asked why he didn’t, Fletcher said, “Just for me, it wasn’t a situation. It wasn’t a balance situation, that’s just the only word – I just know from that standpoint, I wasn’t feeling as normal as I was before him hitting me against Buffalo. Telling the team, I think players will sometimes go running to the training room too much. You get a hang-nail, you go running to the training room. You get a sprained finger, you go running to the trainer and things like that. Me, I’m just of the mentality that if you can play, you don’t need to run to the trainer about every little thing that’s going on with you. Obviously, looking back, I should’ve told the team about that part of it a lot sooner, because it was something that was taken care of immediately. That’s the only regret I have about the situation.”

Related: ‘Do No Harm’ series on injuries and life after the NFL

Fletcher said he doesn’t know how many concussions he has suffered in his career. He said although he now knows about the new information on the seriousness of concussions, he still has an “old-school” mentality.

“Again, when I came into the NFL, you just didn’t – the whole concussion thing. I’ll take you back to college. I had a concussion in college and I didn’t even know what it was. I thought you had to be knocked out to have a concussion. Didn’t know what the symptoms were. I was nauseated, I didn’t tell the trainer then because I didn’t know what the situation was. I could remember the game, I remember the collision, and I felt like, ‘Oh, I just got my bell rung. It’s just football.’ So, coming into the National Football League, especially at the time I came into it, concussions weren’t a thing – it wasn’t like it was the last two, three years or even four, five years with the studies of the impact of collisions to your brain. So, you have to think, my mentality is different. So, now, looking at things that have taken place with things that have happened recently, you think about it. But for me, I also didn’t want to think about it too much because I was in the midst of a season, so I didn’t want to think about it too much.”

Further describing his view of the physical nature of the NFL, Fletcher said, “It’s football, man. I play inside linebacker and I like to play it physical. It can happen a couple times a game, but I wouldn’t classify them as concussions. It’s just a little bell ring. You see stars for a second and then you’re back to normal. You know, two, three, seconds. Whatever the case may be, it’s just the way the game is.”

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett – himself a former linebacker – said he wasn’t privy to Fletcher’s concussion last season, but that he understands Fletcher’s mind-set.

“That’s between the player and the trainer and the doctors. I didn’t know he had a concussion, obviously,” Haslett said. “When I played, I probably had a bunch of them I didn’t know about it either. You get them. Players want to play. I understand that standpoint. But obviously there’s protocol nowadays.”

Fletcher was asked about the growing number of concussion-related lawsuits leveled against the NFL by former players. He said that he hadn’t followed them closely enough to take a stance on the issue.

Fletcher was asked if he has concerns about his future health, and he responded, “Sure, but also, I signed up for this. Nobody made me play this game. I fell in love with the game of football when I was probably five, six years old, and remember watching the games on television and just really love the game of football, and I’ve been in love with this game, pretty much my whole life. Would I change anything? Not really. You pray for the best as far as the situation down the line. Again, having more information now, especially with how there’s protocol with the concussion situation, there’s a protocol the league has taken to help players, but at the end of the day, we have to be smart as players and protect ourselves from ourselves. I know I’ve been guilty of needing them to protect me from me because I don’t tell them everything from an injury standpoint.”


London Fletcher during introductions during the Steelers game on Monday. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Have a Redskins question? E-mail Mike Jones at mike.jones@washpost.com with the subject line “Mailbag question” for him to answer it in The Mailbag.

What’s ahead:

● On Friday, the team has a walkthrough before Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game against the Bills.

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Follow: @MikeJonesWaPo | @MarkMaske | @Insider | Insider on Facebook

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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Mark Maske · August 22, 2013

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