We Chose This Profession

Football is a dangerous, violent way to make a living. Players know that—now more than ever—and are willing to live with the risks. So don’t try to water down what’s best about the game

By
Richard Sherman
· More from Richard·
(Jim Dedmon/Icon SMI)
The Seahawks D making a stop against Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams in the season opener. When a running back lowers his head, the tackler has to get even lower to avoid a helmet-to-helmet collision. (Jim Dedmon/Icon SMI)

I got my only concussion as a pro in my first NFL start.


Can football change? Will the sport become safer? How are concussions impacting the game’s future?

Introducing an in-depth series where we tackle those questions, starting at high schools and continuing into college and the NFL. Read the entire series.

In the eighth week of the 2011 season, I was a rookie with a chance to step into the starting lineup at cornerback for a home game against the Bengals. For the first time, the defensive backfield consisted of Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner and myself. I had played that season on special teams and in nickel, but didn’t have an interception and only had three tackles. This was my opportunity to justify five years of hard work at Stanford, and to prove that I was so much more than a fifth-round pick.

On the game’s seventh play, I trailed my receiver down the left sideline and looked back to see Andy Dalton toss it underneath to Chris Pressley, their 260-pound fullback. As he turned up the sideline I came down hard, squared up, and dove at his legs. His right knee connected with my temple, flipping him over my head. I got up quickly and shook my head back and forth to let them know nobody is running me over. The problem was that I couldn’t see. The concussion blurred my vision and I played the next two quarters half-blind, but there was no way I was coming off the field with so much at stake. It paid off: Just as my head was clearing, Andy Dalton lobbed one up to rookie A.J. Green and I came down with my first career interception. The Legion of Boom was born.

That was the second and last time I’ve had a concussion, mainly because I don’t make a habit of leading with my head. As a cornerback, I’m better served diving at the legs of ball-carriers bigger than me, and squaring up those who are my size. My older brother didn’t have the same mentality. He played head-first, and would sometimes knock himself out making a hit. There are plenty of guys like that in our league, including my teammate Kam Chancellor, Titans safety Bernard Pollard and Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather, who said this week he believes it’s his job to instill fear in the opponent. That mentality and those players are not the problem.

The NFL is the problem.

Now that there’s so much public ire, the NFL is trying to punish guys and say, ‘Hey look, we care.’

A NASCAR driver understands that anything can happen during a race; his car could flip at 200 miles per hour. A boxer knows when he goes in the ring what’s happening to his body. Just like them, we understand this is a dangerous game with consequences not just in the short term, but for the rest of our lives. All of us NFL players, from wide receivers to defensive backs, chose this profession. Concussions are going to happen to cornerbacks who go low and lead with their shoulders, wide receivers who duck into contact, safeties who tackle high and linemen who run into somebody on every single play. Sometimes players get knocked out and their concussions make news, but more often it’s a scenario like mine, where the player walks away from a hit and plays woozy or blind. Sometimes I can tell when a guy is concussed during a game—he can’t remember things or he keeps asking the same questions over and over—but I’m not going to take his health into my hands and tell anybody, because playing with injuries is a risk that guys are willing to take. The players before us took that risk too, but they still sued the league because they felt like they were lied to about the long-term risks. Today, we’re fully educating guys on the risks and we’re still playing. We have not hidden from the facts.

That’s why a lot of guys get frustrated with these fines and penalties, especially for the defenseless receiver rule. Nobody who chooses to play this sport should be described as defenseless. There’s nothing we can do about it, unless you want us to just wait until these guys catch the ball and then let them come down and we tackle them. That’s not going to happen. Now you have receivers going up to catch passes and players are hitting them with shoulder pads and guys like Chancellor and Meriweather are still getting fined. Those used to be highlight hits. Now that there’s so much public ire, the NFL is trying to punish guys and say, Hey look, we care. It’s not hurting anybody but the players by making the game more dangerous. Defensive players are used to playing fast, but now they’re being forced to play with indecision, and indecision gets you hurt in this game.

Going low makes the tackler vulnerable to a head shot from the ball-carrier’s churning knees. (Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)
Going for the legs makes the tackler vulnerable to a head shot from the ball-carrier’s churning knees. (Ric Tapia/Icon SMI)

That said, there are definitely safety measures that I understand and support. Quarterbacks obviously have to be protected from vulnerable situations and late hits—they’re always a premium—but there are some penalties being called on legal plays where the quarterback is barely being touched and the penalties are affecting ball games, all because the NFL thinks preventing the highlight reel knockout is going to fix an image that doesn’t even need fixing. People are always going to play football, and if higher income families choose to pull their kids out of the sport, it will only broaden the talent pool, giving underprivileged kids more opportunities to make college rosters. Most of the top guys in this league come from underprivileged situations anyway.

And that’s not to say most of us chose football for money. I played at 5 years old because it was fun. You meet all of your friends, you learn about teamwork, camaraderie, discipline, following directions, how to time manage and how to rely on other people. Do I think about the consequences 30 years down the line? No more than I think about the food I’m enjoying today, which could be revealed in 30 years to cause cancer or a heart murmur or something else unpredictable. Those are the things you cant plan for, and the kind of optimism I have right now is the only way to live. And the next time I get hit in the head and I can’t see straight, if I can, I’ll get back up and pretend like nothing happened. Maybe I’ll even get another pick in the process.

If you don’t like it, stop watching.

Sherman’s first career interception came in a 2011 game that he played in a fog for two quarters after receiving a blow to the head. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Sherman’s first career interception came in a 2011 game against Cincinnati that he played in a fog for two quarters after receiving a blow to the head. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
304 comments
HughJardonn
HughJardonn

I can't confirm this myself because I'm not in the NFL, but I've heard that the helmets the players use today are so good compared to the old days, that players lead with their head more often -- and that if the helmets weren't so good, they might consider changing their tactics.

On the other hand, if more players learned more tackling fundamentals, that would likely lesson concussions a bit in the game.

Look at a guy like Butkus, one of the nastiest and most feared players who ever lived. Watch how he tackled people. Textbook. He'd come up and drill the ball carrier as he wrapped him in a bear hug (no pun intended) and drove him into the ground - sometimes lifting the dude up like a rag doll first. LOL He didn't need to lead with his helmet, or launch himself at the ball carrier and go for the big KO blow like so many do nowadays.

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

Great article, Richard. Someone send this to Goodell. Some of the current rules regarding hits on the field and how these rules are being applied and called on the field by the refs are atrocious, and it's screwing up the game big time.

CletePeters
CletePeters

I agree, but the same people who are aware of the risks just sued the NFL. The NFL is not making these rules to protect the players. They are making the rules to protect themselves.

pmcilroy
pmcilroy

I agree on the "defenseless receiver" rule, but I think you are crazy on the concussion rule: if you are playing "blind" you are going to get beat. If your teammate can't remember the play, he's going to get beat. Sure, you made an INT at the end of the game. But how many plays did you blow when your head was still ringing. You probably forget, right? That's because you weren't playing with all your marbles. When a player's mental condition is impaired is exactly when his teammates should step in and tell him to at least take a break. That's why they call it mental impairment.

dsiroin
dsiroin

Here is Why I Think Football Should Not Be Tampered With

Derek Siroin

There are tons of reasons why people think the sport of football needs to get safer. I agree with some points, but there are some views that people have that I do not agree with. Doctors, parents, coaches and spectators that think that football needs to get safer because of all the injuries and concussions is fair but in the end they need to realize it is not their game to play. I am going to tell you why I do not think they should have any say and should not interfere with the sport of football.

There are so many reasons why football should not need to change. One of the main reasons why it shouldn’t change and become a safer game is because that is not the opinion of the players. All the players that I have read articles about including Richard Sherman and a bunch of other players around the NFL are saying that the game doesn’t need to change and it is fine the way it is.

People that feel the game needs to get safer have some points. For example, there are good sourced people saying that football can cause a person to get serious head and brain damage to them and may hurt them in the future. I get that point but in the end we all need to realize that if the people who want to play the game want to play, we should not hold them back from their dreams and the sport they love.

AmyBearmon
AmyBearmon

So the data unfolded over time and as far as I can tell is now undeniable. Now we definitively know about how dangerous football really is over the long-term. So why is it that people are willing to watch young men slowly commit suicide? It's different than smoking -- because we don't laud and cheer on smokers as a society--don't glorify it in the same sort of way. And it's different than driving a car because as someone mentioned, we don't intentionally bash into things in a vehicle. 

Everyone who talks here about personal responsibility is not taking seriously our own responsibility in perpetuating such a societal ill. If you step back and think about it, it's truly sick to watch others willingly hurt themselves and others for our enjoyment (and for the owners' pocketbooks.)

And regarding children -- it's tantamount to child-sacrifice -- just more genteel.

Disgusting.

ScottF2
ScottF2

I agree 100% with Sherman.  I don't like to see guys get hurt.  In an ideal world they would take the hardest hit and pop right back up but this isn't ideal.  I may be old school but I remember watching ESPN for the highlight reel hits.  Chris Berman would be " BAM" and everyone would cringe and then be excited about it.  Now that same hit gets a yellow flag every time.  The NFL became popular because of those hits.  It wasn't because QBs who couldn't be touched would throw an 80 yard TD.  If a QB threw a TD he earned it and the WR who caught it over the middle made a name for himself.  Now I could make that catch with no fear of being hit!  Let the men play football.  My friends and I play tougher football without pads on the weekend than they do on Sunday.  Don't turn it into flag and ruin my Sundays.

gobears51
gobears51

Again, I think people are missing the point. You can not bring up what happened in the past anymore. As good as the documentary "League of Denial" was at exposing the NFL. It is no long relevant moving forward.  The PBS special highlighted what was done to cover up the link between concussions and long term brain function. But in today's NFL, the players are fully aware of what can happen to them both short and long term. Now, it is the choice of the players and their families, if this is a career path they want to pursuit. Like Mr. Sherman said,  "A boxer knows when he goes in the ring what’s happening to his body." But you do not see the governing bodies of boxing saying, "Okay gentleman, because of the long term brain damage that can result from one too many hits to the head, we have decided to limit the number of chin shots you can land a round." NO! They let the boxers box, and the fighters understand that they can be killed in the ring as a result. Yet, they still fight.  The NFL has settled with the parties they wronged by not disclosing the link between concussions and brain damage. The current players fully understand the risk they are taking when they put on that helmet. Lets get back to the hard hits that made this sport what it is. If the players have a problem with it, they do not have to play. If Brandon Marshall is worried about the long term effects of football, guess what, he can quit at anytime. But the money is just too good to walk away from, which is likely why he is still in the league. Looking through the previous post i only have one response. " People need to start taking personal responsibility for their and their families decisions and stop looking to scapegoat the next man. There is too much information out informing parents and coaches of the risk of playing football. If they still choose to play this sport, then they too are responsible for their resulting injuries. 

djp9
djp9

BrockDakiller this is easy to say when you aren't the one putting his future and the future of his brain at risk. If you haven't seen the PBS special you should, very eye opening. Tagliabue had only revenue growth as a goal, never the health of the players. Unfortunately most people like you who spew so vehemently are the Al Bundy's of society, living on their High School dreams not having had friends and relatives who suffer the effects in their 40s, 50s or 60s. As the saying goes, evolve or die. 

BrockDakiller
BrockDakiller

I agree with Sherman. 100%. Goodell and his attorney BS is ruining this sport. The players know, accept and get paid. And like it. A few more years and Goodell will have it somewhere between flag and touch ball. I really hate what that bastard has done and is trying to do to our fav. sport. Bringing back Tagliabue would be awesome. Doubt he'd want to come back to this mess tho.

djp9
djp9

Apparently Brandon Marshall feels differently about it than Richard Sherman. I think he is generalizing when he needs to be specific to himself. This isn't a singular opinion among professional players and I think his writing in this piece was incorrect in portraying it as such. Also his analogy doesn't hold water with me. Most of us in North America get in our cars and drive everyday even though automobile accidents for males 15-24 it is the leading cause of death and between 25-34 it is third (behind suicide and poisonings go figure). This doesn't mean that we have the 'expectation' of taking our lives in our hands every time we drive, we have a reasonable expectation of safety, generally predicated ON OUR OWN ACTIONS. This is where Richard gets it wrong, since not all NFLPA members think like him and many have the reasonable expectation of safety BASED ON THEIR OWN ACTIONS within the context of knowing they play a collision sport. We all know accidents that aren't our own fault happen while driving and I would assume football players believe the same about their profession however to infer that they should not as a group have an expectation of safety in general I think puts Richard Sherman severely off-sides on this issue. 

SFBarry
SFBarry

Sherman speaks the words that no other player wants to, which is that pro football players know their sport is dangerous and by playing, they are knowingly accepting the risks.  He stops just short of calling out the retired/old school players who are suing the league now for their concussion related issues because they were "lied to about the long-term risks", but essentially, he's saying that everyone knows what the deal is, but they still choose to play.  I agree that the league should do its best to ensure safety to its players, but in the end, the nature of the game is violent.  At a certain point, you just have to accept that.  With all the information out there now, everyone is more aware of the dangers of high impact sports.  If players still choose to play, let them play.  Players in the end are accountable for their life choices.  

aaronroth
aaronroth

Why isn't there padding on the outside of the helmet and shoulder pads?

aaronroth
aaronroth

So brain damaged adults can be relied upon to make decisions for themselves that will end up costing society millions?

aaronroth
aaronroth

There are only two ways to reduce concussions in football. Proper hydration and proper tackling. 

Sherman wants the cheap shot available.

WillWillis1
WillWillis1

What's the demarcation line for being able to definitely say players understand and accept the risks? It's an important question because while Sherman's attitude is admirable, it's also at conflict with the foundation of past and ongoing lawsuits that claim ignorance of the dangers of the game (and that there was/has been an organized conspiracy to hide this information). 

I found it telling that missing from Sherman's reasoned response was a discussion of the players' own role and responsibility in player safety. In fact, he admits that he looks the other way when it comes to the well-being of other players. And while he points out the league attempting to make examples out of certain players, he doesn't really offer a better solution to deal with the minority of players who make a habit of intentionally head hunting or attempting to injure other players. It seems to me that unless the players themselves are actively policing themselves, any league-imposed rules aren't going to be completely effective.

Leo6
Leo6

Playing football is like smoking.  They are both dangerous, might even kill you, or cause permanent damage.  But you know that going in.

aaronroth
aaronroth

I'm sure Junior Seau agrees. Paul Oliver, Dave Duerson

aaronroth
aaronroth

Society is paying the costs of school aged kids bashing their brains in. When the NCAA ans NFL start paying for those externalities, let me know RIchard Amphetamine

aaronroth
aaronroth

2012 Pop Warner Game had 5 concussions. High school football is not better. We're basically that kids, who are too young to drink or vote, can go bash their brains in a sport that has a notoriously high concussion rate.

aaronroth
aaronroth

Richard Sherman's like the drunk driver that managed to get a girl home and get lucky. 

The rest of society does pay the costs for these concussions when ex-players can't cover their bills.

Some points he is missing out on...pros are not the only ones playing football. college high school and middle schoolers are running around bashing their heads in also.

Also, Boxing and NASCAR do not have anywhere near the same youth involvement as football.


RandyHolbrook
RandyHolbrook

Richard Sherman - you just became my new favorite player.  THANK YOU!

Mike_Bishop
Mike_Bishop

If the NFL wants to be taken seriously when they say they care about player safety they should mandate mouth guards.  Until then they need to keep the rules mongering from impacting the enjoyment of the fans and keeping defensive players from committing to a course of action while in play.  It's ridiculous. 

Go Hawks!

Kurtlen
Kurtlen

The NFL needs to differentiate between leading with the top of your head and leading with your facemask.  Hits with the facemask are far less dangerous because they allow the neck to bend back or twist as your neck is made to do, which reduces the impact on the targeted player.  Top of the helmet hits will compress the spine, which is the cause of almost all spinal paralysis injuries, and will also deliver the full force of the hitting player's body to the targeted player.  You can not expect players to lead with their shoulder pads and not have the head get in the way at times.  If your head is up, it will be your facemask that makes contact - legal hit.  If your head is down, it will be the top of your helmet - Illegal hit.

AbelTovar
AbelTovar

No one runs you over?!

Haha! Let's ask Vance McDonald if that's true.

He trucked you and ran through you like you were a bug on the windshield.

Tribe
Tribe

Medusa Head just wants to see the NFL burn. He has no respect for the integrity of the game or else he would have stopped selling Adderall last year. Browner paid the price for this thug's addiction to drugs and I hope Carroll wises up and stops Sherman from ruining the locker room chemistry. Wilson needs to be the leader!

BrockDakiller
BrockDakiller

@aaronroth  Did yo9u really have to ask that? Are you that dumb? Really? Fucking think for two min. and you'll have the answer. And as for the brain damaged adults making descions,..who turned your computer on for you today?

el80ne
el80ne

@aaronroth Do you really not know what "personal responsibility is'? Obviously what Richard said here went straight over your head so let me give you some key clues. The three you just listed were grown men fully capable of making their own adult decisions as to whether to pursue football as their primary means to earn a living. As pro athletes they were fully aware they risked serious injury, even death every time they stepped on the field. Not only did they make the choice to disregard the risks in pursuit of a NFL paycheck and a possible path to glory, but all 3 of those players chose to triple down by choosing a style of player where they lead with their heads.  No one forced them, it was their choice as grown men to do so as was their right.  What Richard practically spelled out here is that anyone who makes a career out of using their head like a battering ram while claiming they weren't aware of the risks is frankly full of it. They've chosen the profession they play in and to bear the potentil consequences when their playing days are over. It's really quite simple.


Junior, Paul, and Dave are no longer around to agree or disagree. So what a ridiculous thing for you to claim.

BrockDakiller
BrockDakiller

@aaronroth  Why don't just shut your ignorant troll ass up and go watch rhythmic gymnastics. GTFO

el80ne
el80ne

@aaronroth Hardly. Kids aren't being forced into a conscription to play. They play because they want to. You really need to get up to speed on this issue since you're obviously far behind. The NFL already paid out on a massive class action lawsuit brought against them during the offseason. It would help if you got informed before trying to opine on issues you clearly know nothing about.

philo
philo

@aaronroth I take it your answer is to stop playing football. Their is an average 3000 deaths a month in auto accidents. Should we stop driving cars?

swizzlestick
swizzlestick

@aaronroth What is the ultimate goal of playing in high school and college? You want to play at the highest level which is the NFL, to get to that point you have to play all out all the time. It is a violent sport and the name of the article is "We chose this profession" the people who don't want to go to that level don't have to. Professional athletes should be putting everything on the line, thats what separates them from everyone else, its what makes us want to watch.

BigSchtick
BigSchtick

@Mike_Bishop If the NFL wants to be taken seriously when they say they care about player safety they should mandate mouth guards

There are players that don't use mouth guards? I find that hard to believe. Was this sarcasm?

retoddv5
retoddv5

@Tribe Another gernal answer from a full potato Hater. You remind me of Derpster!

aaronroth
aaronroth

@philo @aaronroth When there is an organized sport where high schoolers drive into brick walls, let me know

aaronroth
aaronroth

@swizzlestick @aaronroth I guess you're right. Since. there is a 100% rate of college players being drafted, the NFL is picking up their costs....what 100% of college players don't get drafted...100% of high school players don't get college scholorships...by all means let them bash their  in...I'm happy to pick up the tab

Tribe
Tribe

I've been a Seahawks fan for 30 years but this clown comes in and absolutely embarrasses my favorite team with his outlandish behavior! 

evilcherry1114
evilcherry1114

@philo @aaronroth Additionally, unless you play Gridiron like Rugby, you will be sure that you will get tackled in one way or another. Driving is not inherently unsafe, but those drives endangering other lives are (and honestly should be prohibited to drive, for life).

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@aaronroth @M as in Mancy My point is that it's up to the parents to decide whether they want to subject their kids to the risks of football. It's not your choice or mine or some lawmaker's.

Personal accountability. We're all adults here

M as in Mancy
M as in Mancy

@BigSchtick @M as in Mancy @Mike_Bishop You would be surprised how many guys don't wear mouthguards since it's not mandated. Google "NFL mouthguards" and you'll see how much opposition the NFLPA has put up and how a very significant amount of guys don't use them.

And yes, I didn't believe this at first either

SkeleTony
SkeleTony

@Tribe  You are a lying moron buddy. You just made up a bu8nch of crap that even a hardcore 49ers fan would not have asserted (Selling drugs? We don't even know that Sherman has ever TAKEN a drug! Also as far as Browner and Moffit go, Adderall is not f*cking steroids you idiot! It is not going to turn a mediocre player into a good player or a good player into a star or some such.). Browner paid the price for WHAT?! How is Sherman a thug or a drug addict?!

What "outlandish behavior"?! 

Good news for you: We don't want you. The Hawks have real fans all over the country now and have no more room on the bandwagon for people like you. If you were trolling (which seems to be the case) then I guess you got what you were looking for so...have your orgasm over getting a response out of someone and close your mouth now.

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