ASHBURN, Va. — London Fletcher says he gets his bell rung perhaps twice a game. He’s played in 240 games in a row, not counting preseason and playoffs.
Do the math, and it adds up. The Washington Redskins linebacker has seen a lot of stars.
“I play inside linebacker and I like to play it physical,” Fletcher said Thursday. “So, I don’t know, it can happen a couple of times a game, but I wouldn’t classify them as concussions; they’re just, you know, bell-ringing. You’ll see stars for a second, and then you’re back to normal in two, three seconds, whatever the case may be. That’s just the way the game is.”
The 38-year-old Fletcher, who has never missed a game in 16 NFL seasons, is decidedly old-school. In a profile in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated, he reveals that he suffered a concussion last preseason that he and the team kept secret from the public.
“I’m not going to tell an opponent about anything that I’ve got going on, so it’s just the way I am,” Fletcher told reporters in the Redskins locker room. “You play football, you have things that bother you all the time. If I go around telling you all everything that’s bothering me, you’d be writing a story every day.”
So what was suspected was true. When coach Mike Shanahan said Fletcher was “not feeling right” and kept evading follow-up questions, it turned out that the linebacker did get a concussion when he was hit by a teammate while defending a pass in the preseason opener in August 2012 against the Buffalo Bills. Fletcher stayed in the game a few more plays before telling trainers he was feeling dizzy, and he missed the next preseason game.
Asked why he didn’t reveal Fletcher’s concussion, Shanahan said: “I don’t remember, to be honest with you. I’ve got a hard enough time thinking about what it was last week with injuries, yet a year ago.”
Teams are not required to issue regular injury reports during preseason.
Still, had the injury occurred in September instead of August, Fletcher wouldn’t now hold the longest active consecutive games streak in the league.
“If I had suffered the concussion in a regular season game, I would not have been able to play that following week,” he said.
What Fletcher didn’t tell the trainers was that he was dealing with a byproduct from the concussion well into the regular season. He was over the actual concussion, but something still wasn’t right with his head.
“It wasn’t a situation where I was all wobbly or anything like that,” Fletcher said. “It’s just every now and then I would maybe have a little sway. I would notice it. Nobody else would notice it. So I never told the team about that.”
It wasn’t until he had a hamstring injury in October that Fletcher told the team about his “balance” issues. It turned out to be problem in his neck that was resolved easily. Fletcher hadn’t been his usual self up until then, and once the problem was treated he had a strong second half and was named second-team All-Pro.
“I think players sometimes go running to the training room too much,” Fletcher said. “You get a hangnail, you go run to the trainer. You get a sprained finger, you go running to the trainer, things like that. For me, I’m just of the mentality, if you can go out and play, you don’t need to run to the training room about every little thing that’s going on.
“Obviously, looking back, I should’ve told the team about that part of it a lot sooner because it was something that was taken care of immediately. That’s the only regret I have about the situation.”
Fletcher’s comments about regular “bell-ringing” are sure to add the growing debate surrounding football safety. Experts have tried to educate coaches and players that “getting your bell rung” is not something to be ignored. That only works, however, if the player reports it or a coach or teammate notices it.
“I remember a number of quarterbacks come to the sideline, and you knew there was something wrong,” Shanahan said. “And you give the old ‘1-2-3 finger test’ and they go back out there. Times have changed, and education has changed for the right reason.”
Fletcher said he hasn’t “taken the time” to count all of his concussions, including maybe one or two he’s had while playing pickup basketball. He’s fully aware of concussion-related lawsuits filed by former NFL players, so he knows what he’s up against once he’s retired.
“I signed up for this,” he said. “Nobody makes me play this game.”
Notes: Robert Griffin III (right knee surgery) had his second full practice in a row, still progressing toward a target of playing in the regular season opener Sept. 9. “He was able to get a lot more reps,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “And do some that weren’t totally scripted.” … With QB Kirk Cousins recovering from a sprained right foot, Mike Shanahan said Rex Grossman and Pat White will probably each play a half Saturday against the Bills.
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