While facing off against the Houston Texans this past weekend, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker suffered at least his third concussion in 11 months. It's unknown how many he's had in total, but a person close to Welker estimated that number is at least 10 in his decade-long career.
Many of the hits Welker has taken while suffering some of those concussions have been absolutely brutal. No "dinging" or "getting popped" or any of the other euphemisms football likes to use. Some were hardened, serious concussions. So Welker getting concussed may be an annual event, like Christmas.
This latest concussion (confirmed to reporters by Broncos head coach John Fox) is yet another crossroads for Welker. No one should tell Welker what to do with his life. Yet it is fair to remind him of the many concussed men before him. Men like Mike Webster. Concussions had damaged his frontal lobe, hampering his ability to think rationally. He sometimes slept in his car, his marriage ended, he became a recluse. Experts believe his erratic behavior started with the concussions he received as a Hall of Fame player for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Welker should also be reminded of men like Junior Seau. The San Diego Chargers player, who took his own life, suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a brain disease. Webster did as well. Seau was never diagnosed with a concussion, which is laughable. Either Seau simply hid them or they weren't chronicled by the team. He would likely be the only linebacker in the history of the NFL that never had a concussion. It was indeed Seau's head injuries, scientists say, that led to the frightening personality change—late in his life—of one of the nicest players I ever knew.
Or men like Dave Duerson, who also took his own life and, like Seau and Webster, and possibly a legion of football players, suffered from CTE.
There are other men, other lives, Welker should study. There are an army of them who sued the NFL because, they said, concussions in some cases annihilated their post-football lives. Names like Art Monk, Jim McMahon or Lomas Brown. Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett says football led to the destruction of his mind, slowly, over the decades.
Welker may be like many who have played this game before him. The same men who sued the sport were the same ones who begged off the doctors who wanted to examine them. Or, whose concussions were ignored or misdiagnosed by team physicians. They didn't care about the future. Only the present.
Yet unlike many of those other players, Welker has the benefit of an increasing amount of technology, and knowledge of how the violence of football can potentially damage the brain long-term.
Concussions this preseason have increased over previous years mainly because the reporting on them has changed. (The Concussions Blog twitter feed puts the number at 64 and counting.) They are being chronicled like never before, but there's something else. We are seeing just how violent the sport is in ways we didn't before. The concussion reporting gives us stark, new looks at football, and it's not always a lovely picture. Through Aug. 12 there were already 35 reported concussions, which FiveThirtyEight reported (h/t Forbes) was more than the last complete NBA and MLB seasons combined.
We love this sport. We're obsessed with it. We can't turn it off even when we know players may be risking their ability to remember who they are in later years (or worse). So if that's true, I can partially understand why players like Welker won't walk away. We know about our obsession. Think about his obsession. His desire to play.
Welker and other NFL players are athletes on a level few of us can understand. That makes him unique and Welker likely enjoys that uniqueness. Not to mention the money. Last season, Welker signed a two-year deal with Denver worth $12 million; half of that is guaranteed.
To players like Welker, football offers the ultimate juxtaposition. The sport that is so addictive to them, so satisfying to their minds, can also be equally destructive to it.
Welker may not retire—he's rarely shown any inclination to do that despite his numerous concussions. In terms of strictly football, it's hard to imagine Welker won't get another concussion. His smaller size and the nature of his route running—he goes across the middle a great deal—leave him more vulnerable than other wide receivers.
It could be weeks before Welker returns to the field, but it seems almost certain he will because that is what Welker does. He gets a concussion. Then he comes back. He always comes back.
But this time, Welker needs to think long and hard about something.
What kind of life does he want to have when football ends?
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.