Former NFLer: "Every Drill Was Live... Just Bang 'Em Up, Jack 'Em Up"S

This is an interview series in which we ask the plaintiffs of the NFL concussion lawsuit one question (and maybe a few more): Knowing what you know now, if you could do it over again, would you still play football?

Buddy Curry was born in North Carolina and played at the University of North Carolina before being selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the 1980 NFL Draft. He played in 109 games at linebacker for the Falcons, starting all but two. In 2002 Curry and former teammate Bobby Butler started Kids & Pros non-profit football camps, and Curry is now a certified Master Trainer for USA Football's Heads Up programs as well as an ambassador for the Falcons. He lives in Georgia, and is one of the more than 4500 former NFL players who filed suit against the league over concussions and other head injuries.


There are a lot of guys that need serious help. It's sad. It's alarming how many guys need serious help. And yes, I wanted to make sure if something happened to me later in life that my family's taken care of. That was my reasoning.

We don't know what a concussion is. We're not a professional, so what happens is if you see the symptoms of a concussion, which is blurred vision, the kid kind of staggers around, you know that something's not right. You take him out. When in doubt, you take the kid out. And you let a medical professional make that decision, not the coach.

We're just now finding out what a concussion is, from a diagnosis standpoint. And they'll tell you that we know about seven percent of what we're going to know in five to 10 years. So there's a lot of information that's going to be coming about. Now the definition of concussion has expanded to include dings, to include dizziness, all the stuff that we felt was just kind of a big hit. "I'll be all right in a few minutes." Well, shoot, that just may be a concussion now. And so everything's been expanded, so you're going to have more reported now at the same time you're implementing safer techniques. And every NFL player will tell you right now that what they're doing is really making the game safer, because they're limiting the number of hits in practice. They're managing the hits. When I played every drill was live. And not that you'd take them down, but everything was full-speed, 100% just bang 'em up, jack 'em up. Now it's not like that. Guys don't hit a lot. So they're doing a lot of things, and I applaud the NFL for what they're doing. But I wasn't trained that way, nor was I explained the long-term effects of continuing to hit my head. Even though I may've made the same decision that I did, I didn't have the choice, if you will.

The reason why you should play football, or play any sport, is because of what you learn from the sport. Less than one percent of these kids are going to go on and play college, much less professional football. So why are you letting your kid play? Why do you want them to play? Well, the reasons should be: it's fun, they play with the kids that they go to school with, and they're going to enjoy the experience. But it's the life lessons you learn, because there's something about the physicality of a sport. And I'm not necessarily talking about the major collisions, but it's a man on man thing, if you will, and somebody wins and somebody loses. And when you lose you have to learn why you lost. You have to learn to brush yourself off, to get back in the game. It's a huge thing for boys to do, because these days parents are not going to let their kids fail at anything. And they're going to fail at football. You're going to fail at any sport, but especially football. Every single game there's 11 positions and somebody wins and somebody loses on every one of those possessions. I think it's a great teaching tool. You help facilitate maturity. You teach about life through sports.

I saw 95% of the collisions. I was the hitter, so I controlled who I hit and how I got hit. I was the linebacker. I was the aggressor. That's not appropriate for the rest of the positions, but I think that the goal here is reduction. I don't think it's safe play. I think it's safer play. Because we're all adults and we all have sense here. It's not a perfect solution. I don't think you're going to be able to legislate complete safety, but you can make it safer.

I played with a guy that committed suicide, the guy up in Richmond [Ray Easterling]. I had talked to him about five or six years prior to that, and he was not very coherent on the telephone. But it didn't really hit home, because it just wasn't in my realm. You know, I was feeling pretty good and it hadn't affected the guys in my immediate sphere until the information started to come out a couple years ago. And then as I dig down and find more and more about it, as I'm teaching this stuff I'm going, "Oh, man, I was taught the wrong way." There are a lot of good things, the way we were taught, but it's almost like you take the way we were taught at the time, and you go 180 degrees and that's how you need to play the game now. And it doesn't mean it's going to destroy the game. It's just going to make the game, I think, a smarter game.

It's a scary deal, because you don't know about the subconcussive hits. You don't know how these things could affect you, are going to affect you in the future. This kind of protein has been built up in these players' brains. It'll scare you to death. If you look at it that way, what you're doing is waiting.

I don't worry about things that I can't control, and I can't control if something will happen to me right now. They don't have any medication to reverse some of this stuff if I have it, right? And so I don't wake up every morning and I'm anxious about it and I'm worried and all that. You can't control it. So I've got to live life to the fullest. I appreciate every moment that I have. I truly do. Secondly, I want to protect my family. So how I structure my finances. You know, I'm not going to stop working and all that. I love to work. I love to get after it. I love to build stuff. So I'm going to continue to do that, but financially I want to set my family on a place where if something happens they have a good chance of being whole, if you will. That's from a personal standpoint. I've got a son that won the state championship in pole vaulting in 3A in Buford this year. If he gets another foot, foot and a half he can get a full track scholarship. And he's playing football. And one part of me is saying, "What are you doing playing football?" But he wants to play. He wants to play. As a matter of fact, he loves it, and so I'm not going to stop him. I'm not going to stop him. Now if something came out that there was a 100% chance if you have three concussions that you're going to get... But with the information right now, I'm not going to stop him. I'm going to try to get him to be honest with me, so that we can deal with it, you know, as things happen, and then we can make, hopefully, good decisions.

I would say that football may be one of the riskiest sports that you have. I love football. I love football because it is risky. I love football because it involves an intense focus. At the moment of impact on a collision, there's almost a blinding place that you go to where every ounce of your body and your mind is focusing on that one split second of explosion. And you have a chance to just unleash every ounce that you have. And it's about winning, it's about losing, it's about life. There's so many great things about football. At the same time, there's a lot of negatives about football. But then again, isn't that what life's about? About risk? In this affluent country that we live in now, we're trying to eliminate risk. And with risk comes maturity. But we're trying to eliminate risk and therefore we have little boys that are growing up. Now I'm not saying football's the answer. I'm just saying that football is a great tool to teach young men. And I love it, and that's why I still let my boy play even though there's lots of questions and they're still figuring things out. And I would advise others, if your son wants to play, let them play. But I also would say this: If your son has had two, three, four concussions, you need to think about not letting him play.

Knowing what you know now, if you had it to do over again, would you play football?

Absolutely. I wish I would've known what they know now about training the body, about injuries, about all that stuff. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you I would've made too many different decisions, but absolutely I would play.


Rob Trucks was last seen on Deadspin interviewing former athletes about the end of their careers. His oral histories with 49-year-old Americans can be found at McSweeney's, and his latest book is on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album.

Photo via AP