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?
After a college career at UCLA, defensive lineman Mike Lodish played in 166 regular season NFL games: 74 with the Buffalo Billis and 92 with the Denver Broncos. He has also played in more Super Bowls—six—than any other player in league history. Lodish now resides in Michigan, where he is the owner-operator of Pat's Gourmet, a food company which manufactures Lodish's Champion Brittle, Peanut Crunch and Milk Chocolate Drizzle from family recipes. He is one of the more than 4,500 former players who filed suit against the NFL over head injuries.
People that I've talked to about me being on the list to sue the NFL say things to me like, "You knew what you were getting into." Let me explain something to you: The hell we did. The hell we did. I knew orthopedically that I would have issues. I didn't care. But no one ever told me if I get a concussion and I go back in and show my boys that I'm a tough son of a bitch that I'm going to mess myself up even more. No one ever told me that. No one ever told me that that could possibly lead to CTE that could possibly lead to suicide. No one ever said, "If you have multiple concussions, Mike, you could risk killing yourself at a much earlier age, because your mind is quirked."
I'm not at liberty to say that football is a bad sport. I mean, it's been very good to me, and I've been very fortunate. I've been healthy my whole career. I've had an 11-year career, but I've been a backup nine years which also added to my health, or keeping my health strong, because I didn't get beat down as much. But I was an interior defensive lineman and every single day I was butting my head against somebody, whether it was a full game or a practice, so I had plenty of opportunity to get injured, and I was very fortunate that I didn't. I saw stars once or twice in my career, maybe, and the idea back then was you were tough and you played through it. I mean, we played football the way football was supposed to be played. My D-line coach said it the best: "If you play football the way it's supposed to be played, they don't pay you enough." And that could be that they don't pay you enough money to pay for the hospital bills later in life, but the way that they're playing the game now it's a completely different game. It's a completely different game.
I don't know if people really care about the players that have played and that have been banged up already. I think what people care about is understanding, "Does football damage your head? And if so, do I want Junior to play? Do I want my child to play?" Because I spoke to four or five male figures—not females; these are all male figures, so let's be clear on that—and these guys look at me as "Hey, you're a professional athlete. You made a very good living. You knew the risks. And I don't have any sympathy for you. You shouldn't be suing the NFL. You shouldn't be one of the plaintiffs." Well, what they don't understand is what we understand now, and what we understand now is we were not told that multiple concussions can potentially lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which could then lead to significant, life-changing thoughts or behavior patterns or things of this nature. I mean, you get a concussion, you get a full concussion, they keep you out of the game. But they let the symptoms go away and then they put you back in. Now I get it. I'm not upset at that. What I'm upset about is the fact that the NFL didn't respect the physical nature of their worker's bodies to protect them. It was all about putting the product on the field. This is the assumption. And if you look at a real business, you know, like General Motors, if somebody's pregnant they get three months off. They can't be fired. If I get a concussion and I can't play for two or three weeks, my livelihood's in jeopardy. So you see see the contradiction there. That's what was tough, I think, for players to grasp. But again, we didn't know. Back in the '90s we didn't know what long-term effects of multiple concussions would do to you. We didn't know.
Have I walked out of the house without my keys? Absolutely. Is that symptomatic? I don't know. Do I have a tendency to forget things? Yes. Absolutely I do. But is it because of head trauma? I don't know. But I'm part of the 4500 guys and there's guys out there that have been damaged because of the game.
Mashing your head against something, I've got to believe—and I'm not an expert—but I've got to believe that's going to potentially speed up the possibility of dementia. I've got to believe that some of my friends that have 15, 20 concussions are struggling right now in their mid to late 40s with memory loss. You know, you beat your brain up like that, it's like beating anything else up. But again, I'm not an expert.
I think the NFL owes it to its players that have created it to be a $9 billion or $10 billion industry to say, "Hey, we've got a fiduciary responsibility here to help these guys in some fashion." And again, the 32 business owners that are the entities that own the 32 teams, they make the decision to settle or not. And they settled and it appears that things are moving forward. That's all great. I mean, I think it's a great thing. I think the owners felt that this would be a very good political move, or a marketing tool to settle on this and look like the good guys. And I think they are looking like the good guys, but ultimately it's the guys that have been damaged, that are really damaged right now that need help. I mean, every guy who played in the NFL should have health insurance for as long as they live. And we don't.
I think that's the premise of all of us getting on this lawsuit, because frankly I'm not on the lawsuit for any money. If money comes then it comes. If I'm deserving of something, then I'm going to get it, right? But it's to create an awareness. It's more to tell the NFL owners, "It's time for you to stop treating us like cattle," for example. "Or a piece of meat. You know, we put a lot of money into your pockets."
We came into a sport that was very physical, and very physically demanding on us, but at the same time I think if somebody knew something that could have potentially life-threatening ramifications, I believe there's a fiduciary responsibility to educate those individuals so that they can make an educated decision on their future. And we feel that that wasn't done. I mean, I think that that's the premise of the lawsuit.
Knowing what you know now, if you had it to do over again, would you play football?
That's a hard question. I think every one of us is a tremendous competitor, as if you were a warrior. And to take a warrior out of the battlefield is taking part of his heart away. Honestly, I think I would play, but if I saw stars three times in one year, I might retire. I might quit the game, knowing what I know now. But I would play until I saw stars for the first time, or got concussed for the first time. And then I would go, "Maybe we need to stop this right now." If I got a concussion, I would go get a second opinion. I wouldn't allow the team doctor to say, "Okay, you're ready to go," after a week if I thought it was not long enough. I would protect myself. And then ultimately you would be risking your job. So if that's the case, then my career would've ended very shortly if I got concussed. But if I didn't get concussed, "Sure. Let's keep playing."
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 hislatest book is on Fleetwood Mac's Tusk album.