Sam Shields: Super Bowl champion regrets playing in NFL; says his head is ‘all mushed together’ with concussions




CNN

Former Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields said he regrets playing in the NFL, pointing to the effects of concussions and head injuries on his career and later life.

After playing seven seasons with the Packers, Shields missed nearly 14 months with concussions between 2016 and 2017, returning to the field for one final season in 2018 with the Los Angeles Rams before retiring.

But, in a candid interview with Dan Le Batard on the ‘South Beach Sessions’ podcast, the 34-year-old Shields described his head as “all crushed with concussions”.

He added that he still suffered from headaches, poor appetite and sleep issues as a result of the concussions – and the fierce nature of the NFL.

“Once you are in this NFL, 100% of the blame is on you. So you have to take risks because you have to take care of your family,” Shields said.

“When you’re done with football, everyone forgets you. Family friends. I have a friend. In football, I was 10.

“Right now, I have one where I know it’s my friend. That I could really say, ‘You are my friend.’ I don’t even talk to most of my family members. Once football was over, everyone was over with me.

In a Players Tribune article that Shields wrote in 2018, he described some of the symptoms he experienced, which are attributed to the concussions he suffered.

“It was three in the morning one evening in January 2017,” he wrote. “I forget which one. I’d had a lot of bad nights back then, but this was the worst.

” I could not sleep. It was like my brain was cramping, or trying to get out of my skull or something.

“I was rolling around in my bed, whipping my body back and forth, trying to escape the pounding inside my head. Next thing I know, I’m curled up in a fetal position, shaking and crying.

Shields pointed out that he was unavailable to play with the Packers for nearly two years due to being in concussion protocol.

And he questioned the support he received from the organization to rehabilitate him with his head injuries.

“They didn’t really put in much effort to check on this guy. They just wondered, ‘Is Sam going to play this week? He does not play ? Oh, he has to go.

The Packers did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

Shields describes receiving help from doctors at UCLA after wondering why his head was all “fuzzy”.

It wasn’t until he took time off and sought help himself that he began to recover from his concussions and “beat them”.

Shield also credits its head injury issues as the reason for the dismissal of its agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

“It was always, ‘Sam, you can do this. Money.’ I don’t care about money. I just wanted to have my head straight. My shit ain’t together. …I felt like it wasn’t supporting my health. In the two or three years I’ve been out of the league, I haven’t heard from Drew.

Rosenhaus did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.

When asked by Le Batard if, given the chance to start a new life, he would choose to play in the NFL again, Shields was unequivocal.

“No,” Shields said. “I was going to school, trying to do home improvement work. I would try to learn how to build a house.

The NFL revamped its concussion protocols this season after Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was injured on Sept. 25.

Tagovailoa suffered an apparent head injury and was later allowed to re-enter the game. Tagovailoa, 24, was later hospitalized with a concussion.

The National Football League uses ATC Observers, who are independent certified athletic trainers, to monitor all games.

Spotters “serve as another pair of eyes, monitoring possible injuries at every NFL game,” according to NFL Football Operations.

For example, stumbling is considered a sign of ataxia because it demonstrates impaired motor function. The league defines ataxia as “an abnormality in balance/stability, motor coordination, or dysfunctional speech caused by a neurological problem.”

The protocol change announced by the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association said a player showing signs of ataxia while being evaluated for a concussion would be barred from returning to play.


Concussions and their prevention have become a significant issue in recent years due to their link to brain disease later in life.

In 2017, a study published in the medical journal JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of the brains of deceased NFL players who were donated to scientific research.

Neurodegenerative brain disease can be found in people who have been exposed to repeated head trauma.

The disease is pathologically marked by an accumulation of abnormal tau protein in the brain which can disable neurological pathways and lead to a variety of clinical symptoms.

These include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control problems, and sometimes suicidal behavior.

It can only be definitively diagnosed with an autopsy, and most, but not all, cases have been seen in veterans or people who play contact sports, especially American football.

A 2018 study found that CTE can start early and without any signs of concussion.

Dr. Lee Goldstein, one of the authors of the study published in the journal Brain, and colleagues at Boston University evaluated the brains of four deceased athletes, ages 17 and 18.

All four had died between a day and four months after suffering some sort of sports-related head injury and had football backgrounds.

Earlier this year, former NFL player Demaryius Thomas died suddenly at the age of 33. Months later, Thomas’ family said he suffered from stage 2 CTE when he died.

Also in recent years, Vincent Jackson, who died aged 38, and Phillip Adams – who shot and killed six people before killing himself – have both been posthumously diagnosed with CTE.

A 2021 study also found that NFL players are about four times more likely to die from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, than the general public.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease more likely to be diagnosed in older white men. The root causes are still unknown and most cases are considered sporadic.

The researchers hypothesized a relationship between head trauma and ALS due to a similar link detected between football and the neurodegenerative disease CTE. Previous research has noted that CTE and ALS can have similar impacts on the brain.

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