Allen Park – Calvin Johnson’s decision to retire early from football wasn’t exactly unique. In fact, you could say it’s part of an emerging trend, with multiple NFL players stepping away from the game still in their primes due to long-term concerns about the impact of concussions.
That trend isn’t lost on Johnson’s former Lions teammate, Golden Tate, who admitted he regularly contemplates how long he’ll continue to play in light of Johnson’s decision to call it a career after nine seasons.
“We need to think about what’s more important – this five or 10 years we play football or being to go to the park with your kids, being able to remember your kids’ birthdays, your health,” Tate said Thursday during a press conference shortly after reporting to training camp. “Health is a big thing in this game. Researchers are showing more and more that these hits to the head can hurt you down the line.”
Tate expressed an issue shared by many players – not understanding the ramifications of head injuries when they began playing football. But as research continues to advance on concussions, the impact of those hits to the head are constantly on his mind.
“I feel like when I started the game, I didn’t understand what could happen in the future,” Tate said. “I thought a concussion, you just couldn’t remember a few things for a few days and then you are back to normal. Now there’s so much research out there that shows it can hurt you in the future.
“Right now, I’ve just got to learn to play a little bit smarter,” he continued. “Still play tough and play hard, but learn to protect my head the best I can.”
Somewhat surprisingly, given his physical style of play, Tate has never suffered a documented concussion during his six professional seasons. But as we know, players aren’t the best at self-reporting head injuries, fearful of being forced to the sidelines for the rest of the game, or longer.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Johnson admitted to having his “fair share” of concussions, although he was never formerly listed on an injury report for having suffered one.
But even though Tate acknowledged retirement is often on his mind, he doesn’t seem to have any immediate plans to hang up the cleats. In fact, he hopes he hasn’t even reached the halfway point of his playing career.
“One of my goals is to leave the game when I want to leave, not because I haven’t been picked up or because of injury,” he said. “That’s one thing I pray for every night is health, to be able to get up out of bed every day and go to work.
“I just take it day by day, year by year. In a perfect world, I play another eight or nine (seasons).”
Additionally, even though he spoke about his desire to play more cautiously, he expressed a continued desire to return punts for the Lions, one of the highest-risk roles in the game.
Tate is entering his third season with Detroit and seventh overall after being selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the second round in 2010. He’s averaged 94 catches and 1,042 receiving yards with the Lions and figures to be the team’s top receiving target following Johnson’s retirement.