With the NFL increasingly hypersensitive about its perception of player safety, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson's recent admission he played after suffering a concussion in Week 4 has to be nothing short of horrifying.
According to the star receiver, he sustained the injury after a helmet-to-helmet wallop delivered by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway in the Lions' 20-13 loss.
Greenway was fined $21,000 for the crushing blow, but Johnson told the Stoney and Bill show on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit that the concussion was "part of football."
Via CBS Detroit:
He rung my bell pretty good, he got me, he caught me around the chin, that was a good hit. It’s a part of football, you get concussed, you gotta keep on playing. You can’t get afraid to go across the middle any more than you were at the beginning.
While Johnson clarified that statement somewhat on Thursday (via MLive.com's Anwar S. Richardson), he did not shy away from the concussion admission.
Some may say the true story here lies with whether the team gave Johnson a stringent-enough test, considering he passed with flying colors. For their part, the Lions vehemently deny the Pro Bowler even had a concussion in the first place.
Here is what head coach Jim Schwartz said to Richardson on Thursday:
Our evaluation was he was not concussed. He was thoroughly checked. We were very strong in our evaluation. He was cleared to go back in the game, and he was on a protocol after that, and he was cleared then.
However, whether he had a full-fledged concussion seems irrelevant at this point. It's the star receiver's seeming nonchalance about the situation that is truly disconcerting.
Concussions are the way of life in football. No one is ignorant enough to deny that fact at this point. There is no other sport so reliant on consistent head-to-head contact and those hits—along with the ones similar to Johnson's—pile up.
The thing we have to realize is that players know this fact just as well as we do, if not more so. We often act like NFL players are non-human entities, that they have no understanding of the sport they play or its repercussions.
Johnson's statement exposes that belief as a falsehood, at least in this particular instance. Speaking completely at his own free will, the Lions' wideout made it abundantly clear he thought he was concussed, but still went back on the field of play.
Going forward, that sets up a horrifying precedent for Johnson.
It's not exactly like Megatron has to look too far to see a worst-case concussion scenario. Teammate Jahvid Best has struggled with brain-injury issues going back to his college days, and has not played a down of football since Oct. 16, 2011 due to continual concussion issues.
If that situation is not enough to make any Lions player proceed cautiously with every head injury—no matter how severe—I'm unsure of what is.
For Detroit, Johnson's admission sets up a sticky situation. While the team undoubtedly wants to keep its superstar receiver on the field as much as possible, it's become clear that the team will have to be even more rigorous in testing Johnson.
He's a franchise star and someone the Lions hope to have around for another decade. That means if Johnson won't police himself, the team may just have to do it for him.