“When you go through something like that, you’re just like, ‘Okay, I have all my limbs, I’ll continue on,’” Hibbard said.
Similarly, football players say they entered the league with little knowledge of concussions. Westbrook said when he was a rookie, he was warned about money, women and partying. This year’s crop of rookies will also be told about brain injuries.
At the league’s rookie symposium later this month in Canton, Ohio, players will be on hand to discuss traumatic brain injuries with the rookies. Eventually, the NFL hopes troops will meet in person with young football players to discuss brain injuries, and military brass similarly wants its servicemen and women to hear from football players.
“If I try to address this with a soldier, they may understand what I’m saying,” Lanza said. “But if I put an NFL guy in there who says, ‘Hey, I understand what you’re going through, I had this issue, too,’ boy, that resonates with our soldiers."
The two sides also began planning an awareness campaign: posters that would hang in NFL locker rooms and Army barracks, and social media strategies that might reach young and old alike.
Neither side is certain where the partnership may lead, but as the relationship progresses it’s possible the NFL and military will share technology, medical information and marketing strategies. For now, their attention is focused on making sure concussions are treated properly at all levels.
“The question is, how do we talk to each other in the most effective way?” said the NFL’s Hicks. “And the honest answer is, we don't know. That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”