Report: Calvin Johnson says Lions 'wanted me to change my story' about concussion

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Hell hath no fury like an All-Pro receiver scorned. 

In an extensive piece written by Sports Illustrated, former Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson offered pointed criticisms toward the franchise that employed him all nine of his seasons in the NFL. 

Calvin Johnson

Among the most damning claims by Johnson is he conservatively estimated he suffered nine concussions during his playing career and said the organization asked him to revoke his claim that he had been concussed and suffered nerve damage after a game during his record-breaking season in 2012. 

“I knew I was concussed because I blacked out," Johnson told Sports Illustrated. "I wasn’t seeing straight. And they wanted me to change my story."

Johnson was never formally diagnosed with a concussion during his career. 

Following a game against the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 30 of that year, Johnson explained how nerve damage had been affecting his ability to grip the ball. 

"Actually, I had some nerve damage, so that was kind of messing up my grip a little bit," Johnson said. "Not to blame it on that, but I think that a concussion maybe could have had something to do with some of that damage I had going on."

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Then-Lions coach Jim Schwartz adamantly denied Johnson's characterization later that week. 

"This is a non-story and we're making it a story," Schwartz said. "It's a non-story. If there's no questions about the Vikings then we're done ... We have credibility when it comes to concussions. Our player safety is extremely important to us. We think an awful lot of Calvin. We're not going to put Calvin out there if he's in any kind of danger.

"We also know that when you follow up a concussion with another one quickly, there is an exponential risk. With the contract we signed Calvin to, and everything else, we're going to make sure there is no issue there. We feel very strong in our evaluation."

Calvin Johnson

Johnson also admitted to smoking marijuana after every game for pain management. 

"When I got to the league, (there) was opioid abuse,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated. “You really could go in the training room and get what you wanted. I can get Vicodin, I can get Oxy(contin). It was too available. I used Percocet and stuff like that. And I did not like the way that made me feel. I had my preferred choice of medicine. Cannabis."

Johnson is currently invested in a cannabis company with former teammate Rob Sims, and the two recently partnered with the International Phytomedicines and Medical Cannabis Institute at Harvard University to study the benefits of medical marijuana on cancer patients. 

Johnson remains at odds with the Lions after the organization reclaimed a portion of his signing bonus following his retirement, estimated by Johnson to be $1.6 million. He continues to hold fast to his commitment to have nothing to do with the organization until he gets the money back, but also noted he doesn't care if that actually happens. 

This offseason, Lions team president Rod Wood said bringing Johnson back into the fold was a priority, but the retired receiver told Sports Illustrated there have been no talks between the two sides. 

Johnson wasn't the only former Lions player levying accusations against the organization on Friday. Retweeting the Sports Illustrated article, former center Travis Swanson also criticized the team for mismanaging his concussion in 2016. 

"100 percent true," Swanson wrote. "They didn’t put me in front of a doctor for an entire week in 2016."

Swanson had tweeted something similar, although not directly about the Lions earlier in the week. 

"The amount of negligence is astounding amongst NFL medical staff," he wrote. "IE: Bringing up symptoms repeatedly a week before you’re put in front of a doctor the morning of a game."

Swanson missed the final four games of the 2016 season when he self-reported a concussion after playing every snap of a Week 13 game against New Orleans. It was the second consecutive year his season was ended by a brain injury. 

Swanson played one more season with the Lions. He retired this offseason at the age of 28. 

In response to Johnson and Swanson's claims, the Lions released an organizational statement:

"We respect the privacy of individual players' medical situations and take great pride in the extensive work done by our medical staff and executive team to ensure we follow the appropriate protocols with respect to player health and safety. The well-being of our players will continue to be an organizational priority."