Calvin Johnson: Concussions played role in retirement

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson never was listed on an injury report with a concussion.

Yet, in his first interview with a national outlet since his retirement, the former Lions receiver said brain injuries were an issue during his nine-year career.

“It’s clear to see when you get a concussion,” Johnson said, according to a transcript provided by ESPN officials from an “E: 60” feature airing at 10 tonight on ESPN. “In football, it’s — concussions happen, if not on every play, then they happen like every other, every third play, you know. With all the helmet contact, guys hitting the ground, heads hitting ground. It’s simply when your brain touches your skull from the movement or the inertia, man.

“It’s simple to get a concussion, you know. … I don’t know how many I’ve had over my career, you know, but I’ve definitely had my fair share.”

Johnson admitted in November 2012 he suffered a concussion during a Sept. 30 game against the Vikings when linebacker Chad Greenway leveled him with a helmet-to-helmet hit and safety Harrison Smith hit him hard. Johnson said he suffered nerve damage, and it was affecting his gripping ability weeks later.


The Lions denied his claim.

“With respect to the Minnesota game on September 30, Calvin sustained a hit that resulted in him being removed from the game and evaluated pursuant to the appropriate concussion protocol by our team doctors,” team officials said in a statement. “He also was subsequently examined the following day and was found to have no concussion.

“Additionally, Calvin did not suffer any nerve damage. He sustained what is referred to as a ‘stinger’ in September 30 game and was able to finish the game.”

Johnson released a statement after the Lions, saying he “misused the terms ‘nerve damage’ and ‘concussion.’”

He had several other injuries that were public — lingering issues with his knees, ankles and fingers.

Still, Johnson played at least 13 games in each of his nine seasons, 135 total.

“When you wake up in the morning, you can’t walk,” he said of pain he still feels. “You know, you’re shuffling across the floor. … I got to go through, like, a little routine when I wake up in the morning to get everything functioning and ready to go. But, the only thing is everything just goes back to gridlock so fast once I sit down, ’cause you know you go to work again.”

Johnson also discussed the use of pain medication prescribed by team officials, and said he didn’t want to have to take medicine to perform at his best.

“And, whether it be Toradol, Tylenol, T3s — you know, gettin’ cortisol shots, things like that,” he said. “You know, those are the main things that I did, or that I took.

“The team doctor … the team trainers, they work for the team. And I love ’em. They’re some good people. They want to see you do good. But at the same time, they work for the team. They’re trying to do whatever they can to get you back on the field and make your team look good. So if it’s not going to make the team look good, or if you’re not going to be on the field, then they’re trying to do whatever they can to make that happen.”