Calvin Johnson sat down for an interview with Sports Illustrated to discuss his NFL career and the reasons behind his early retirement from football. Johnson comes across as a guy who is very much at peace with how his career turned out, and who isn’t shy about revealing some of the uglier aspects of playing in the NFL. He talks about how easy it was for him and his teammates to acquire opiates from the team doctor, and how playing through concussions was a regular part of life. He also claims that the Lions once made him publicly deny that he had suffered a concussion.
From the story:
He got used to concussions. “Bam, hit the ground real hard. I’m seeing stars; I can’t see straight,” he says. “But I know in a couple minutes I’m gonna be fine. Because I’ve done that plenty of times before.” In 2012 he told reporters he suffered one against the Vikings. The Lions said (and maintain) that he passed their concussion protocol, and Johnson later apologized: “I misused the terms nerve damage and concussion.” But he says now, “I knew I was concussed because I blacked out. I wasn’t seeing straight. And they wanted me to change my story.” Mostly, he says, he played through concussions because in his NFL that’s how you earn Employee of the Month.
The hit in question happened during a game against the Vikings in 2012. After that game, a reporter asked Johnson if he had suffered a concussion on the hit, and Johnson said, “Yeah, yeah, he knocked me good. You could tell. It was obvious.”
The Lions immediately disputed Johnson’s diagnosis, releasing a statement saying that the receiver had suffered a stinger, but not a concussion. Eventually, Johnson released a written statement in which he said he “misused” the term “concussion.”
It’s entirely possible that Johnson did indeed pass the concussion test during that game in 2012 and was never officially diagnosed with one, but the meaning of those specifics falls away when you read his rather vivid memory of that hit and the many others that he took. “I can’t see straight,” and “I blacked out” tell you a lot more about what football actually does to the people who play it than any semantic argument over what technically does and does not constitute a concussion ever can.