Corey Widmer was a star at Montana State before playing eight seasons with the New York Giants in the 1990’s and was selected as a member of the Montana Football Hall of Fame’s 2018 class.
But he opted not to accept those honors.
Widmer has serious misgivings about the game of football, what it has done to his life and what it could do the lives of children who play it. Those thoughts have been boiling under the surface for years, and he finally let it all out in interviews with several Montana-based outlets in recent days.
Bluntly, he said football “destroyed” his life in ways that have become all too familiar for former players.
“I think if I’d be putting that jacket on right now I’d probably puke,” concedes the Bozeman High graduate. “I don’t think I’d be able to shake a hand. And that’s why I’m doing it this way; I don’t want to make some political statement right in the middle of their party and take advantage of some very nice people.
“I can’t sit up there and tell interesting stories and how cool it is — the camaraderie, the fame, things like that — and have somebody else say, ‘Well, if that local kid can do it, so can I.’ It just doesn’t work that easy. … I’d never want to give somebody the impression that football is safe and that the injuries are short term. They’re not. I’m proof of that.”
Widmer told the Hall of Fame that “concussions” were his reason for not accepting the Hall of Fame honors. One specific hard hit to the head in 1998, he told The Missoulian, “changed everything across the board” for him.
Widmer, whose time in the NFL ended in 1999, is now 49 years old. The Bozeman native described to his hometown paper the symptoms he experiences. They are all the usual occurrences you hear about with football players who exhibit hints of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), including memory loss and extreme mood swings that range from severe depression to violent anger.
Widmer believes he has CTE:
“I’m 49 years old, depressed to the nth degree but have a lot of money … and some people might say it’s still worth it. I just tell them to watch what they wish for,” Widmer asserts. “If someone could’ve explained all of this to me when I was 14, I would’ve given it all back in a heartbeat. I would’ve wished for something else.
“The 6-foot-2, 260-pound canary in the coal mine has died. Maybe having been in the coal mine is the only way to really get the point across.”
Widmer doesn’t know what the future holds for him, but wants to get his message out to parents. He believes kids should not play tackle football until high school and says it is “borderline child endangerment” if parents allow their children to play before then.
Specifically, when Widmer read about a lawsuit stemming from a 2014 incident that left a 16-year-old high schooler nearly paralyzed and unable to speak, he felt compelled to speak out. Ridden with anxiety, Widmer returned to Montana from a trip to Australia to do just that.
Don’t let your kids play tackle football at least until high school, he urges, and even then perhaps wait until they’re seniors. If they have the speed and the strength to play college football and beyond, they’ll be discovered. Once they’re adults, he says, “if he wants to put himself out there and destroy his brain, as long as he’s fully informed … that’s America.”
Until then? Flag football.
During his time with the Giants, Widmer compiled a total of 271 tackles, 7.5 sacks and four interceptions.
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