"If you didn’t get concussed, you wasn’t hitting hard enough."
The above quote is just one of several revealing quotes by former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden in regards to concussions and how they were dealt with by players and NFL teams during his seven years in the league.
Speaking Sunday on The Jason McIntyre show on Yahoo Sports Radio, McFadden was brutally honest about concussions and how they were handled when he played from 2005-2011. McFadden talked about how a player's desire to stay on the field, and to never be carried off the field, is what fuels players to continue to play when maybe they shouldn't.
McFadden did say that the NFL's policies towards handling player concussions has improved since he played his last football game.
"Concussions, they weren’t magnified like how they are right now.," McFadden said. "A guy would get concussed in the first quarter, and he might come back in the second quarter. We consider that to be a ding. ‘I got a little ding right quick, I’m OK though … they give you the smelling salts. They didn’t have the in-depth concussion protocol they have right now.
"When the trainers come to get you, you wave them off. ‘Nah, I’m good. I can walk off.' Or better yet, I’m not coming off the football field. That was the norm. That’s how we thought … when you’re playing football, especially as a defensive player, you’re expected to go through some aches and pains … your job is to be warriors and continue to battle through it. Either you’re injured or you’re hurt. In both cases, you’re going to play."
McFadden said that he specifically remembers a collision with Kellen Winslow Jr. and his decision to stay in the game despite the blow to his head. He also explained the "Prom Date Rule", a rule among teammates in regards to being helped off the field.
"I made a tackle, went low on him, and I took a knee to the head," McFadden said. "I was literally stumbling back to the huddle and I stayed in the game. The guys in the huddle saw me and said something wasn’t right. But I’m out here on the battlefield. If I’m not getting carried out, I’m gonna stay on the football field. Nowadays when you see a guy stumble, the protocol is bring a guy to the sidelines. That wasn’t the case in 2008.
"The first thing I said to myself, ‘oh, come on B Mac, don’t let ‘em see that you’re sleep out here. We used to call it, when you’re getting concussed, ‘you’re getting sleep.’ You pretty much went to sleep when you weren’t sleepy. We used to joke around with it all the time. We had a rule in Pittsburgh – we used to call it the ‘Prom Date’ rule. When you get your date and put your arm underneath your date, you take that picture … you don’t want to get prom escorted off the field. A man doesn’t get prom escorted off the football field."
With more public attention on concussions and questions surrounding the long-term health of those who play football increasing, a question to be asked is whether or not the past and current players feel that these risks to their health and quality of life is worth the opportunity to play in the NFL. For McFadden, who two Super Bowls with Pittsburgh, it's an easy question to answer.
"At the end of the day, for me, it was worth it. it was always a dream of mine to play in the National Football League. Playing at Florida State was a dream. My family couldn’t afford to put me up or get loans for me to go to school. No question it was worth it. Sometimes you may have headaches and migraines, and sometimes the memory could be an issue, but playing in the (NFL) has opened up so many doors … I’m thankful for it."