WASHINGTON — Washington Redskins tight end Niles Paul is an avid movie watcher, finding time even in his busy schedule to squeeze in film study for entertainment.
Last season provided a lot more time than expected, as a dislocated and fractured ankle in the preseason ended his year on injured reserve. It was his first extended period away from football and a chance to dwell on his own mortality, a situation he admits left him feeling depressed.
It didn’t help when the Will Smith blockbuster “Concussion” came out, unveiling the trials and tribulations of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the physician responsible for connecting head trauma in football to long-term health problems.
Obviously, Paul, whose hallmark is physicality on offense and special teams, took the message of the movie and the corresponding research to heart.
“I went through a mix of emotions when I watched that movie,” he told Michael Phillips of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “If I’m being 100 percent honest, I got a little scared, because I looked at the types of players that were out there, and I realized those style players are my style players.
“They were bangers. They were in the trenches; I’m in the trenches. They were going hard on every play; I go hard on every play.”
Research is ongoing, but early results suggest that both the big, highlight hits and the small, sub-concussive hits can cause tau protein to build up in brain tissue, eventually causing CTE and leading to such cognitive problems as depression, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
The stories of players like him, from Mike Webster to Junior Seau, hit home for Paul.
“I’ve had a concussion here and there dating back to high school,” he explained. “My most noticeable one was two years ago in the Giants game when I got knocked out. So it was a scary thought.”
But like Redskins teammate Ryan Kerrigan, who said that the early retirements of players with concussion concerns were something that should make every player think about the future, Paul will continue with his playing career.
The risks are better understood now than ever before, but the NFL has never been more popular. For Paul, knowledge is power–not necessarily a deterrent.
“After I watched it, I called my dad, we talked a little bit. He was like, ‘If you ever start feeling weird, just let me know and we’ll work it out,'” Paul recalled. “I said, ‘I got you, Pops.’
“I love football, and seeing the movie made me aware of it, and I’m glad for that. I feel like it was good to see it. But it’s not going to affect my style of play. I’m going to put that aside (when I’m on the field). I’ve got to eat.”