Fletcher acknowledged that he didn’t tell the team about the aftereffects of the concussion until midway through the season. He regrets that decision, he said, but he dismissed the injury as just part of the game.
“It’s football, man,” Fletcher, 38, said. “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.”
Fletcher’s disclosure, which he first disclosed to Sports Illustrated, comes at a time of heightened sensitivity in the NFL about the long-term effects of brain trauma. More than 4,000 former players, including former Redskins Art Monk, Mark Rypien and Clinton Portis, have sued the league over head injuries they suffered while playing the game.
The NFL has taken measures to try to eliminate violent blows to the head, and Commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league wants to “change the culture” of the game so that injuries, particularly head injuries, are treated more seriously.
Asked why he didn’t disclose his concussion, Fletcher said, “I’m an old-school player.”
Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, a former linebacker, said he wasn’t aware of Fletcher’s concussion, but that he understands Fletcher’s mind-set. “When I played, I probably had a bunch of them I didn’t know about it either,” Haslett said. “You get them. Players want to play. I understand that standpoint. But obviously there’s protocol nowadays.”
Despite all the attention being paid to the risk of concussions, Fletcher’s view isn’t unique among many current and former players.
“I think there’s a real disconnect between understanding the consequences of playing through an orthopedic injury and playing through a brain injury,” said Robert Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine, who conducted a recent study on the long-term effects of repeated head trauma in athletes. “The brain is such an incredibly vital organ that needs to be taken much more seriously than it previously has.”
Fletcher said he suffered the concussion early in the Buffalo game when his head struck the ground after he was hit by a Bills player. “I got a little dizzy. I’ve experienced that in games before,” he said. “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.”