What NFL Players Are Saying About “League of Denial”

New York Jets running back Shonn Greene (23) lowers his head as he runs into Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox (21) during an NFL game on December 9, 2012. The Jets defeated the Jaguars 17-10.

New York Jets running back Shonn Greene (23) lowers his head as he runs into Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox (21) during an NFL game on December 9, 2012. The Jets defeated the Jaguars 17-10.: (AP Photo/Kevin Terrell)

October 11, 2013
You can watch League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis here.

Over the course of filming League of Denial, FRONTLINE spoke to several former players about their experiences with head injuries. Among those we heard from were Steve Young, Harry Carson and Jim Otto.

Over the last few days, a handful of current players, and at least one coach, have also begun to weigh in. Some were asked whether they planned on watching the film. Others were asked more generally about their thoughts on concussions and the league’s history with such injuries. Here’s what they had to say:

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore Ravens:

“I think I’m just paranoid. But … from their standpoint, I think [the league is] looking forward to covering their own [butt] more than anything, more than player safety.” (More)

Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints:

“I think certainly there were mistakes made in the past in regards to what people knew or how it was handled. But as we think about moving forward here, and especially when we talk about youth sports, there’s protocols that need to be in place and that need to be followed to a T because obviously it’s very serious stuff. You see the conditions that a lot of retired players are in based upon their experiences with head injuries and concussions in football and other sports. A lot of them are in bad shape. Certainly they deserve to be cared for and to be helped, and hopefully we can learn from that situation and make it better for those who come after us.” (More)

Tom Brady, New England Patriots:

“I don’t think about it at all. I’m not overly concerned.” (More)

Ed Reed, Houston Texans:

“The business of football is very shady. The fact that they would withhold information is bad. The fact that our [collective bargaining agreement] would not want that information, the fact that our older players would take money instead of getting that information is bad. The business of football, NFL football, is shady. Now we can’t get that information anymore? It’s just swept under the rug? That’s bad.” (More)

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers:

“I will not be watching … I know the risk that I take when I step on the field. I’m risking future health and future mental health. I understand that, future physical health.” (More)

Reed Doughty, Washington Redskins:

“I think policies are easier changed than the culture … I think that’s harder to change. There’s a lot that’s being done that’s good and there’s a lot that’s being done that’s maybe a little bit of a front.” (More)

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots:

“First of all, I’m not really familiar with whatever it is you’re referring to, whatever this thing is. But it doesn’t make any difference whether there is or isn’t one going on. We have our protocol with all medical situations, including that one and that’s followed by our medical department, which I’m not a doctor and I don’t think we want me treating patients.

What we do in the medical department, that’s medical procedures that honestly I don’t know enough to talk about. But I can say this, there’s nothing more important to a coach than the health of his team. Without a healthy team, you don’t have a team. We try to do everything we can to have our players healthy, to prepare them, to prevent injuries and then to treat injuries and to have them play as close to 100 percent as we can because without them, you have no team.” (More)

Ray Rice, Baltimore Ravens:

“This has been a game I’ve been playing my whole life man. I understand all the health precautions and everything that goes along with it, but you don’t play the game to be scared, but at the same time, you know the risk you’re taking by going out there and I’m one of the few, that I’m willing to go out there and take that risk and just follow all the rules with player safety and try to keep it as safe as possible.

… Yeah I would let my son play. I wouldn’t want to take that opportunity away from him. As much as they talk about concussions, there’s guys who — they get hit in the head with baseballs, you can get whacked in hockey, you can get hurt in any sport you play because you’re playing at a different level of competition. So it’s just football happens to be a contact sport so it gets scrutinized and looked at in a different way.” (More)

Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, 1989-2000:

“I do not have a son; if I had a son, I wouldn’t necessarily discourage him from playing football, but I don’t know that I would encourage him to play either … I don’t know what the data show, but I haven’t sensed there’s been a reduction in head injuries. With that in mind, that’s concerning. As long as we’re having contact and as long as there are collisions, there’s going to be head injuries.” (More)

Aikman’s comments were especially noteworthy, as they came in response to a question about FRONTLINE’s retelling of his 1994 concussion in the NFC Championship game. As we reported in the following scene from the film, the injury left Aikman in the hospital, and resulted in a scary exchange between the Dallas quarterback and his agent, Leigh Steinberg:

Jason M. Breslow

Jason M. Breslow, Former Digital Editor



More Stories

As Donald Trump Announces His 2024 Run, a Look Back at His Presidency and Impact
FRONTLINE has built a unique public record, in documentary format, of the former president’s impact on American life, politics and democracy — and his previous battles with a special counsel and the Department of Justice.
November 16, 2022
How American Politics Reached This Fraught Moment: 12 Documentaries to Watch Ahead of the Midterms
As a divided America prepares to vote and fears of political violence continue, these FRONTLINE documentaries show how U.S. politics reached this moment.
November 4, 2022
How Russian Soldiers Ran a "Cleansing" Operation in Bucha
"I’ve already killed so many civilians,” a Russian soldier told his wife from Bucha, Ukraine. The Associated Press and FRONTLINE obtained hundreds of hours of CCTV footage and intercepts of audio calls by Russian soldiers that show for the first time what a Russian "cleansing" operation looked like.
November 3, 2022
‘The Story Putin Doesn’t Want Told’: Filmmakers Talk About ‘Putin’s War at Home’ Documentary
Gesbeen Mohammad and Vasiliy Kolotilov talk about the making of the FRONTLINE documentary “Putin’s War at Home,” which tells the story of Russians defying their government's crackdown on critics of the war in Ukraine.
November 1, 2022