Lions' T.J. Lang balances family, football concerns after sixth concussion
Allen Park — Detroit Lions starting guard T.J. Lang is on track to play this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, three weeks after suffering an ugly concussion during the opening quarter against the Dallas Cowboys.
It’s the sixth documented brain injury of Lang’s professional career, but after consulting with various experts in recent weeks, he’s at peace with resuming his professional career.
“You know, I think going back to last week, two weeks ago, I tried not to make too big of a deal about it,” Lang said. “Obviously, I’ve been down this road before. The older you get, the more you start to think, but the guys here, the trainers, the doctors, everybody really involved in my personal life did a good job setting me up with high-end experts, doctors and neurologists I could talk to. And I reached out to a lot of them and gathered as much information as I could. I would say most of those meetings were pretty positive.”
Lang’s family, especially his wife, Laura, are concerned for his long-term future. She accompanied him to some of the appointments with local neurologists on his fact-finding mission.
And Lang understands their concern. Despite not wanting to do it, he re-watched the broadcast of the play where he was injured. He took in what he couldn’t remember — the jarring collision with Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith, the stumbling around before laying prostrate on the field and eventually being helped to the locker room by members of the team's training staff.
He couldn’t help empathizing with his family and how they were feeling watching it live.
“I think about my mom, obviously my wife, my kids,” Lang said. “My kids are old enough to watch the games now and notice when something is wrong. All that stuff goes through your mind. I think that’s just human nature. At the end of the day, you try to explain to my kids that I’ll be all right.”
In total, Lang estimated he spoke with four doctors in recent weeks, experts he was connected with through the team and his agent. His goal was to determine the legitimacy of long-term threats to his health, specifically asking if the growing concerns over CTE were real or a topic being inflated through the media.
Lang expressed confidence in the group’s objective opinions and also noted that most, not all, agreed he’d be fine once he's cleared to return.
“A few of them had different opinions,” Lang said. “But for the most part, it was, 'I think you'll be fine to play. I don't think there will be ramifications for you down the line if you continue to play.'"
The way Lang talks about the topic, saying his wife is worried about the “head stuff,” dismissing reports on the impact of concussions for NFL players and his willingness to ignore certain medical opinions does raise questions about whether he was seeking a validation of his own preconceived opinions.
But it’s clear he’s not ready to give up football, and certainly not in the middle of the season.
“There's risk to playing football any day, no matter how healthy you are,” Lang said. “Anything can happen — a rookie, a 10-year vet, anybody — so there's definitely a risk. I think all the players are very well aware of that, and last year when I was coming off my concussion, they said you basically got to weigh the risks versus the benefits. Last year, I felt the benefits were much higher, and I still feel the same. So, that hasn't changed. Try not to overthink it too much. Can't go out there and play scared. Can't try to avoid certain things.
“The biggest thing was I just feel like I have a lot of teammates in this locker room that are counting on me to be out there, and play, and play at a high level. And that's something that's always driven me, and will continue to drive me. I don't know if it's the brightest way to look at it — comparing your health — but at the same time, it's really all I know, and I want to be known as a dependable guy. I try to think like those guys. And I know whenever those guys are injured, they feel the same way.”