When Luke Kushley Retired from the NFL in 2020 The 28-year-old played eight glorious years as a linebacker for the Carolina Panthers and was documented with at least three concussions.
He joined other stars under 30, including quarterback Andrew Luck and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who were primarily concerned about the long-term health effects of playing. chose to leave professional football. (Gronkokushi returned after the season.)
However, the 32-year-old Kushley still maintains a close relationship with football, having spent one season as a scout for his former team and now coaching the 12-year-old alongside former teammate Greg Olsen.
Speaking by phone from his home in Charlotte, N.C., Kuechly said he’s seen active NFL players like Tua Tagovailoa get hit in the head, whether he’s worried about his cognitive health, and whether he’s a tackle player. He talked about how he communicates with players’ parents about the dangers of football.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
You went to Congress last month to discuss traumatic brain injury. How conscious do you think you are?
I think everyone understands the context of traumatic brain injuries and head concussions. I think everyone understands that there are things that can be done. But I think the more we can stand out there and discuss it and explain perspectives and different perspectives and small ways to make a positive impact, the better our lives will be.
You joined the NFL in 2012 when perceptions of concussions were changing dramatically. Did you notice the difference?
I think all of the NFL has a very different microscope, really, often in a good way. We have a very strict return-to-play policy, with independent observers at Part 1, Part 2, every match and every stadium. And there are multiple independent lifeguards who monitor their only job is to see if anyone has been beaten or otherwise behaving abnormally. . So I think the NFL has done a really good job in terms of keeping players safe on the field and giving them a safe chance to come back to play.
I’ve had multiple concussions. Were some more difficult to deal with than others?
Watch other people, learn from others, talk to lots of people. Then you hear words like: When you feel better, you can go out again. ’ That’s what we learned, fortunately early on, from our trainers and coaches, and the various doctors and players we played with, who said, ‘This is just to be dealt with and endured and endured. I said it’s not like a sprained ankle. . You should be smart and understand that this is a different situation. I have to leave it until it gets better.
Do you think the culture of leaving the game at a relatively young age has changed since you were in the NFL?
Looking back, Barry Sanders retired a few years early. Calvin Johnson has clearly walked away. Gronk left. I think it just happens at different times for everyone. [Sanders and Johnson both retired at 30. Gronkowski announced his first retirement at 29.]
You worked as a scout for the Panthers in 2020. why?
I love football, I love attending games, I love spending time with my players. And it was a really good opportunity for me to slowly step away from the team over a year and still be close to the team and close to the game to be involved and have some impact. And, obviously, there’s quite a bit of structure involved in that. Because we were there almost every day, working on different projects, checking waiver wires, looking into free agency.
I think you saw what happened to Tua Tagovailoa last year. Did you get a little sick of hearing that?
No, the biggest thing for me is just wanting everyone to stay safe. I want men to be given the opportunity to play the games they love for as long as possible. But I think everyone in the NFL understands it’s a violent game. It’s physically demanding. With big, strong guys running around, injuries are inevitable. I want Tua to play as long as he wants and I want him to play as safely as possible. But at the end of the day, it’s more like a game now. It’s just big guys running fast, hitting hard, and lifting weights. Things happen very quickly in the world.
A study was published last week The study looked not only at the number of hits players had over their careers, but also their cumulative impact. Are you concerned about your own long-term cognitive health?
I don’t really care, but I am very conscious of it. I finished playing, so I read a lot of books. I did a lot of homework. I talked to many people. I’m not worried about that, but I’m well aware that ‘hey, something you can do could be useful and you might as well take advantage of it’.
I think the biggest thing for me is a healthy lifestyle. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, get outside, and build good relationships. Keep your mind active.
When you’re a coach, what do you say to parents who are concerned about game safety?
I say this to many people. you are their parent Ultimately you will know what is best for them. ” I will only talk about positive things, such as what I have learned about toughness, how to overcome things, how to build relationships, the people I have met through the game, and the experiences I have gained from playing the game.