Posted: Friday October 13, 2006 12:05PM; Updated: Friday October 13, 2006 5:36PM
By Christopher Nowinski, Special to SI.com
History of trauma
Running back Merril Hoge was forced to retire early after suffering multiple concussions.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
To understand how dangerous concussions can be, Morgan should ask Hoge, the former Steelers and Bears running back who had his career cut short and who nearly died because of multiple concussions.
"Someone should absolutely be telling Dan Morgan about the links they've found between multiple concussions and Alzheimer's disease, depression and those other problems, and that each concussion increases his risk," said Hoge. "We do that with hips and knees all the time, except you can replace hips and knees. You can't replace the brain. It needs to really be explained to him. Put it all on the table and let him decide for himself."
There was a certain passion in Hoge's voice, because before he was forced to retire, he didn't have all the information, and it nearly cost him his life. He doesn't want the same thing to happen to Morgan. Hoge suffered a concussion in 1994 while playing for the Bears. Standard protocol should have been for team doctors to monitor his symptoms day by day, and certainly not allow him to return if he was still experiencing symptoms. But according to Hoge, that's not what happened.
"I later found out that my return-to-play date was determined on the flight home by the medical staff, which is maybe the most ridiculous thing ever," said Hoge.
So Hoge played the next week while still symptomatic, never thinking twice about it. "I wasn't worried about playing the next week at all, even though during practice that week I was mentally slow," he said. "What I know now about concussions is not what I knew then. Players simply aren't trained to know about concussions or head trauma."
Hoge felt the symptoms during the next game, and they only got worse. "In the huddle I was fuzzy about what I was supposed to do, and I even had a hard time remembering the snap count," he said.
While blocking in that game, he suffered another concussion. He kept playing, and believes that no one would have noticed except that his face mask had been dented so badly in the collision that it cut his face; he was taken out when coaches noticed the blood.
"I went to the locker room and actually stopped breathing," said Hoge. "They thought they lost me. I spent two weeks in the ICU, and then I spent 13 months just trying to relearn how to read, how to drive. For those 13 months I had no drive and no feeling -- I was just tired and numb."
Though Hoge eventually recovered, his career was over when the neurosurgeon he trusted from his days with the Steelers would not clear him to return. Understandably, Hoge has a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to athletes being told about the risks they face.
Morgan now has more information than Hoge had in 1994, but that doesn't mean the outcome will be any different. Late in the 2003 season, after sitting out all or parts of seven games, Morgan admitted, "It seemed like every week I just didn't feel like myself. I felt real cloudy, didn't have a lot of energy, like I was in a mental fog."
For nearly half of that 2003 season, Morgan played through symptoms similar to Hoge's. Fast-forward to 2006: Morgan knows he doesn't want to get too many concussions in a short period of time. But what does he know about too many concussions over a long period?