Detroit Free Press
Published 7:21 PM EDT Oct 18, 2018
T.J. Lang visited several neurologists after suffering the sixth documented concussion of his NFL career last month trying to answer one very complicated question: Should he continue to play football.
And while the Pro Bowl guard received conflicting opinions on what impact brain injuries will have on his long-term health, Lang said Thursday he’s comfortable right now returning to the field.
“The biggest question I had was, do you guys feel safe?” the Detroit Lions offensive lineman said. “Do you think I’ll be safe to return once I’m fully back healthy, and I think most of them said yeah. And that gave me a lot of comfort knowing that, hey, when this thing’s all settled and gone then basically hit the reset button and continue to play.”
Lang said he visited “three or four” specialists in recent weeks, including the same Brighton clinic that former teammate Haloti Ngata sought counsel from just over a year ago, and he acknowledged that at least one warned him about the dangers of continuing to play football.
“A few of them had different opinions,” Lang said. “But for the most part it was, ‘I think you’ll be fine to play. I don’t think there’ll be ramifications further down the line if you continue to play.’ There were some tough conversations for sure, but it is what it is.”
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Lang, who's suffered two brain injuries in less than a year, the last coming in the first half of a Sept. 30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, said his wife, Laura, accompanied him on several of the doctor’s visits.
“She seems to be pretty worried about some of the head stuff with obviously everything that’s going on in the public and with these articles,” Lang said. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to try to make a conscious, educated decision moving forward and I think I gathered enough information to feel comfortable to continue to play when I’m feeling good.”
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For now, Lang is feeling good.
He said it took him more than a week to recover from his latest concussion, when he took a helmet-to-helmet hit from Cowboys linebacker Jaylen Smith.
Lang said he did not remember the play happening on the field – he dropped to his knees after the hit and was taken immediately to the Lions locker room – and had a tough time watching video of it a few days later.
“Coming off the field, I didn’t really remember what happened, but the next day or a couple days after that I watched the TV copy and didn’t really want to look at it,” Lang said. “Nobody really, you don’t really want to see yourself in that kind of position, but this is what it is, man. It’s football. There’s a lot of risks in this game. It’s not the first time I’ve been injured. Hopefully it’s the last.”
Lang missed one game with a back injury earlier this year and has played through an assortment of injuries in his 10-year career, but dealing with concussions has been especially trying for the 31-year-old father of two.
Along with a brain injury he suffered in a game against his old team the Green Bay Packers last November, Lang suffered concussions during the 2009, 2012 and 2013 regular seasons, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and in training camp in 2015.
He said he has tried to put himself in others’ shoes when weighing the benefits and health risks of playing football.
“I think about obviously my mom and my wife. My kids,” Lang said. “My kids are old enough to watch the games now and kind of notice when something’s wrong, so yeah, all that stuff goes through your mind. I think it’s just human nature. At the end of the day, try to explain to my kids that I’ll be all right.”
Lions offensive line coach Jeff Davidson said last week he had no plans to discuss the benefits and risks of playing football with Lang, and Lions coach Matt Patricia said he would defer any advice to “people that are a lot more educated on the subject than I am."
After his concussion last year, Lang said he wanted to continue playing football “as long as my body holds up,” and that sentiment hasn’t changed despite his most recent injury.
“There’s risk playing football any day no matter how healthy you are,” Lang said. “Anything can happen to a rookie, a 10-year vet, anybody. So yeah, there’s definitely risk. I think all the players are very well aware of that and I think last year when I was coming off my concussion I said you basically got to weigh the risk versus the benefits and last year I felt the benefits are much higher and I still feel the same. So that hasn’t changed. Try not to overthink it too much. Can’t go out there, you can’t play scared, you can’t try to avoid certain things. Injuries happen, it’s part of the game. I think everybody understands that.”
Lang, who has one year left on the three-year contract he signed with the Lions in 2017, did allow that he might reconsider his position after the season.
“I think the offseason is definitely a time where you finally have a couple days to sit back, reflect and think,” Lang said. “I mean, cross that bridge when I get there, but for right now I’m comfortable where I’m at here Week (7) and I’m just glad I’m feeling better. Hopefully it’s the last time it happens.”