Lance Briggs was a quality football player. That’s not in doubt. Some, might have even called him great. Across his 12-year career, the ex-Chicago Bear had over 900 tackles and was a seven-time Pro Bowler. Needless to say, he accomplished plenty on the playing field.
He also lost a lot in the process.
For every trademark Briggs burst through the line of scrimmage to bring a running back down for a loss, there was a toll. For every sack of a quarterback, there were consequences. For very single individual seemingly inconsequential block or pop, even on the other side of the field completely away from a play, there was an impact - it just wasn’t felt immediately.
In partnership with Sqor.com, the 36-year-old Briggs stars in a four-part video series that started this week detailing the beginning of the fight of his life. A battle against by now, the all too synonymous plight of football and the repeated traumatic head injuries it presents as a part of it’s very basic nature. A battle against chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE.
As the former Pro Bowl linebacker details in the first part of the series about what he went through, and what his teammates as well as current players go through on the field routinely due to the extremely violent nature of football - it isn’t normal. Not by a long shot. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
“You’re not supposed to be doing the things we’re doing to our bodies,” said a concerned Briggs in the video filmed outside of Soldier Field.
Grown, massive men inflicting pain on each other in an advanced game of chess involving a ball. A game of chess that now publicly includes yet another legendary former football player. A lesson that what this game offers is sometimes so much smaller than the narrow-scale events of any contest in comparison to what can happen to a person’s health down the line.
Guys like Briggs, they know the risks. They have no regrets. They’re educated enough to understand they’re putting themselves in harm’s way while ravishing in the glory as a gridiron hero to fans in the public light.
“Some of my better years, they were right here in Chicago. Right here in this stadium. I just remember the first time they called out my name. I knew my mom was in the stadium just feeling so proud. ”
That’s what you revel in. The money, the fame, it’s all of a part of it. A stadium of a ravenous 60,000 plus people cheering you on. All the while you make freakish movements and manage feats of strength, speed, and grace no average human being is even capable of, that of course, you’re praised for.
However, it doesn’t diminish the terrifying aspects of a sporting event so fundamentally harmful to human beings. An aspect of the game that will likely never change even as safety measures are enacted and rules are adjusted to account for the brutal nature of football. The violence here is an unstoppable force meeting a very movable object and Briggs knows he’s just another victim in the way. That doesn’t mean he’s going to give up, though.
“For me, it’s important to...stay active. Keep feeding my brain,” says Briggs on what he believes he needs to do to help him stave off the effects of his coming challenges.
Endeavors like working with Comcast SportsNet as the host of the Lance Briggs Show and taking classes for his bachelor’s degree as he mentions, can only help in maintaining his sanity against the debilitating disease. That’s how you fight the inevitable, or, at least what you think may be on the horizon. It can only extend the hourglass of quality life that’s already been shaken for what Briggs subjected himself to, something he’s also previously said he has no regrets about.
“Football comes down to a choice. If you understand the dangers and the harm, and if that young man or whoever else wants to play football, there will be football,” noted a contemplative Briggs on the future of the game and his own decision making.
Who knows what exactly will happen to the star linebacker down the line?
This is the dangerous line football players cross while understanding the “dangers” as Briggs expresses. With no conceivable way to test for CTE in living people, we’re currently at a stand still as to how we can actually assist these athletes during their career and more importantly, after the scheduled rigors and adrenaline that vanish in retirement.
The ideal to spread awareness and make sure we don’t forget what we’re watching or what we subject children to, can’t be lost. You can still watch football and enjoy it, just as much as players like Briggs make the conscious decision to participate. But you can’t forget what these gladiators are ultimately doing. You can’t let the dangers go by the wayside and stop talking. That’s the message. There’s breathing room here, so long as you understand that conflict.
And in the end, that’s all Briggs wants to do as he’s at the very beginning of a long flight of stairs. As he’s still in the glow of life after a game that once did everything for him.
Obviously, CTE has made a lot of news of late in recent years with famous cases of former Chargers and Patriots linebacker, Junior Seau, and former Bears safety Dave Duerson, committing suicide, among others. Briggs has clearly kept these kinds of situations in mind.
“You get worried. I get concerned for myself. And even though I’ve never had any suicidal thoughts, or anything like that, for it to happen to some great men, and great football players, I know that i can’t separate myself from that crowd.”
Indeed, with where he sits in the time he spent with football, Briggs can’t be an idealist and say detrimental effects of CTE will never happen to him. Some former football players do go on to lead functional lives and some don’t. It’s an ever-turning Russian Roulette. But understandably, in something so treasured as life is, you don’t want to make that gamble and leave it to chance. It’s not worth what you could lose if you don’t stay involved as best as you can.
Briggs will never get to walk back the steps he’s taken with football and where he’s come from - nor does it seem like he even wants to. He’s just not going to let them define his future.
“Head injuries will continue to mount. We’re all going to need that medical care. We’re all going to need to make sure that we’re cared for throughout the rest of our lives.”
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.