The man in the picture above is 27 years old, chasing down a fumble for the San Diego Chargers in a 1993 playoff game against the Miami Dolphins. Eighteen years later, he will not be able to remember yesterday, and he will look like this.
That's Steve Hendrickson, a former linebacker, fullback and special teamer for the San Diego Chargers, and a Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers. He guesses that he sustained about 20 concussions through this career. You should read his whole story here, by Howard Yune of the North County Times, but here are a couple of snippets that reveal the toll his career took on his brain.
"I can remember material I had before the concussions," said Hendrickson, who played for the Chargers from 1990-94 and still lives in Escondido. "Twenty years ago seems so clear to me, but yesterday seems just ---- far away, foggy."
"I know I had a large vocabulary, but now I had a hard time reaching for it. That's how I know something was wrong," he said of that period. "And then I'd get in these states where I'd be comatose two or three days, unable to move."
"They would train me on one thing one day, and then they'd have to retrain me on the same thing the next day ‒ and I would swear to God they'd never showed me or taught me that," he said. "But there were some things that I'd retain. I was one of the only guys they had who passed the materials testing. And then I'd go out in the field and completely forget the process ‒ even if it was written down."
Yes, it's another concussion horror story, and yes, you've probably gotten your fill of those over the past couple of years. But it's also easy to forget the real-life impact of these things that are spoken of so vaguely. Maybe the more stories that are heard, the more urgency there will be to find a way to better protect players.
As a fan, I don't know what we do with this information. I don't know if protecting NFL players from head injuries is something that's even possible. I don't know if I should feel any differently now, with all the concussion information out there, when I watch another undersized bruiser willing to hit everything in sight.
Truthfully, I probably won't. I'll feel bad when I read a story like this, but I won't feel bad when I actually watch the process of this happening to someone else. Maybe I should. Maybe at some point, I will. So far, though, that's how things have worked for me.
Note, too, that Hendrickson is kind of a special case. Things won't turn out this way for everybody. As a player, Hendrickson was all about contact. He made a career out of being physical, being relentless and being willing to ram his body into anything if it might benefit his team or keep him employed. He played linebacker, fullback and special teams. He was drawn to contact. That was his style.
That's true of a lot of guys today, too, though. One hopes that they'll fare better when they're 45.