LAKE FOREST – Concussions impact everyone in different ways. That’s the scary but serious reality of having a brain injury.
For Jaquan Brisker, who sat out the last two games due to a concussion, the rookie safety passed all the protocols on the sideline during the Chicago Bears matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. He was cleared by several trainers and only missed two defensive snaps in the November 20 game.
But the following day, Brisker could feel something was off.
“It was a little weird because I felt a little normal,” Brisker said this week at Halas Hall. “I felt normal playing the game and then after the game. Once I came back into the facility, that’s when it started to hit me that I didn’t feel normal when I woke back up.”
Brisker wasn’t alone, though. Kyler Gordon and Sterling Weatherford also sustained concussions against the Falcons. Gordon sat out the last two games against the Jets and Packers with Brisker. The symptoms Gordon experienced were also new to him
And the healing process – as he learned – was all about patience.
“Really, they just talk about your symptoms or what you feel, day to day things, really just try to get you to feel like yourself again because you can really have the cloudy, foggy feeling where it feels like you’re looking from a third-person type,” Gordon said. “It’s weird. That’s my first concussion ever. But it’s just a slow process, really. Just day-to-day things for how you feel and just checking in.”
Weatherford only missed one week and returned for the Packers game. Like Gordon, Weatherford also went through the entire process for the first time in his football playing career. Luckily for the undrafted free agent linebacker, he had mild symptoms and was able to pass the five phases of the NFL concussion protocol.
Here are the five phases:
- Symptom limited activity – Prescribed rest and light aerobic exercise under athletic staff supervision
- Aerobic exercise – Under team medical staff supervision the player can start cardiovascular exercise, dynamic stretching and neurocognitive testing
- Football-specific exercise – Player can participate in sport-specific activities and practice with the team in sport-specific exercise for 30 minutes
- Club-based non-contact training drills – Player continues team-based sports-specific exercise in non-contact drills, including throwing, catching and running
- Full football activity / clearance – Player examined by Independent Neurological Consultant and if cleared, he is able to participate in next practice or game
(Full description of the NFL’s Return-to-Participation Protocol.)
“So there is basically just a bunch of tiers,” Weatherford said. “I guess that is the best way to explain it that you have to pass through. Each one of those you have to be symptom-free. It’s really just a progress at your own. There’s no real handbook for it. It’s all just you know, ‘alright, hey, come in. How you feeling today? How you feeling the next day?’ It’s really just one day at a time.”
Larry Borom also is well aware of what it takes to come back from a concussion. Borom missed the Week 8 matchup with the Cowboys with a concussion, his second since joining the Bears. Borom also entered the concussion protocol during training camp of his rookie season.
Borom said it took him a week to recover after missing the Cowboys game. Even though he has had two concussions in his young career, he remains positive about his future, but he will never feel pressured to play if he isn’t ready.
“I mean you of course want to get back, but you can’t,” Borom said. “I feel like one thing you can’t play with is your mind. So beyond this football stuff you need to have your mind. It’s one of those things you kind of just wait the process out, you know what I mean.”
The next hurdle after coming back from a concussion is playing with the physicality, speed and relentlessness that is absolutely necessary to succeed in this sport. For Brisker, he doesn’t feel that will be too much of an issue now that he is cleared to play.
“I’m going to still play aggressive,” Brisker said. “Having a concussion really doesn’t change it. I’m still going to play aggressive. It’s just now that I’m cleared and now that I’m able to go, everything is still at a thousand percent, so it doesn’t really change the way I’m going to go out there.”
Once Gordon was cleared, he stopped thinking about his concussion and started putting his focus on preparing for the Philadelphia Eagles for this Sunday’s game.
As long as tackle football is being played, concussions will always be a part of the game. Especially since athletes are only getting bigger, faster and stronger.
“It’s just a reality of the game,” Weatherford said. “We do play a violent game. Injuries will come. I’m, I would say optimistic with all the research and stuff coming out about concussions, about how you can get back after. So just the more day to day that keeps coming in on those I think the better everyone should feel on the steps of coming back. How to progress back into play, how to do it all safely. That’s what it’s about. Just about learning and trying to get your body to heal, so that you can go out and play the game.”