Since retiring in 2010 after a hugely successful, 19-year NFL career, Brett Favre has become increasingly outspoken on the issue of brain injuries. On Thursday, he told the host of “Megyn Kelly Today” that he estimated he’d suffered “probably thousands” of concussions while playing football.
Favre, who won a Super Bowl with the Packers and played with three other franchises en route to being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, went on to describe his career as “kind of a blessing and a curse,” in that it provided “a lot of joy” for himself and his family but may also have led to neurological problems that he fears could get much worse at any point. As with several other football stars who have recently retired or are near the ends of their careers, he acknowledged concerns about possibly developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease that has been linked to concussive and sub-concussive head impacts common to football.
Referring to his NFL-record streak of 297 consecutive games played, the 11-time Pro Bowl quarterback told Kelly that he considered himself “fortunate” not to have suffered “a lot more damage” to his brain and body. “I feel as though I’m lucky, to this point, but … I find that my short-term memory, someone I met six months ago, it has gotten a lot worse,” he said. “Simple words that would normally come out easy in a conversation, I’ll stammer.”
Favre noted that at age 48, episodes of forgetfulness may just be reflective of getting “a little bit older.” He added, though, “I wonder if that is what it is, or do I have early stages of CTE? I don’t know. It makes you wonder.”
In terms of official concussion diagnoses he’s aware to have received, Favre thought the number might just be three or four. “But as we are learning about concussions, there is a term that is often used in football and maybe in other sports, that ‘I got dinged,’ ” he said. “As Dr. [Bennet] Omalu, who was portrayed by Will Smith in the movie ‘Concussion,’ has said, ‘dinged’ is a concussion. When you have ringing of the ears, seeing stars, that is a concussion.
“If that is a concussion, I have had hundreds, probably thousands throughout my career. Which is frightening.”
Favre was joined on Kelly’s show by another Hall of Fame quarterback, Kurt Warner, as well as former soccer star Abby Wambach and former catcher David Ross, who helped the Cubs and Red Sox win World Series titles. They were all on hand to promote a drug brand that could help reduce the short- and long-term damage caused by concussions, although it has yet to be FDA-approved for the marketplace, and the latter three spoke of their own experiences with brain injuries.
Wambach, who holds the world record for goals scored (184) in international play by men or women, many of which came off her head, said she would donate her brain for research. “The science now, as we have it, is the only way that you can know if you’ve had CTE is postmortem,” she said.
“It’s like the only thing I can do at this point to be able to give back to the world, and to be able to get more information, so that we can give that information to our young kids, so that they can make the best decisions … for their brain health.”
Wambach said that a cavalier attitude toward concussions early in her career reflected “a real naive kid who didn’t really want to face the truth about what her current situation was.” Warner, for his part, said there were “numerous times” he played through brain injuries, because the prevailing stance among football players at that time was, “I’ll do whatever I have to do to be out there.”
Warner, who rose from obscurity to lead the Rams and Cardinals to a total of three Super Bowl appearances, winning one championship with the former team, said he considers himself “fortunate” that he was forced to sit on the bench in college and early in his professional career. “I didn’t take nearly as many hits as I could have,” he told Kelly.
“The thought process in those days was you would never come out of a practice or a game because you had a little head ding,” Favre said. “You would be considered, for lack of a better term, a sissy.”
Kelly reminded Favre of his comments earlier this year that if his grandsons “chose to play football,” he “would support them” but was “not going to encourage them to play,” because he knew “what’s out there and it’s dangerous.” She asked if he wished that he himself had never played, but the three-time NFL MVP expressed satisfaction with his path in life, albeit colored by anxiety about what may lie ahead.
“The thing about what little we know about the brain, and the injuries and CTE, is that tomorrow could be totally different,” Favre said. “Tomorrow I may be in great health, but I don’t know who I am and where I’m going. So it can happen overnight, and I know it’s not as dramatic as that, but that’s the scary thing.
“No matter what I do to try to take care of myself physically, there is a part of my future that I really can’t control, and that is very scary.”
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