NFL 2007: Panthers LB Morgan gambling in return to football after 5 concussions Print
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Thursday, 30 August 2007 09:45
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 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -Bring up his newborn son and Dan Morgan's face lights up.
Brady is healthy and sleeping through the night. His wife, Ashleigh, and older daughter, Lexi, are doing well. Morgan has made millions of dollars in football and is involved in profitable business ventures off the field.
So why is the Carolina Panthers middle linebacker risking his long-term health by trying to play again after sustaining at least five concussions?
``Nobody really knows how I feel,'' Morgan said recently in a rare defiant tone. ``Unless you're in my shoes and know how I feel then that's something that somebody can't talk about if they don't know.
``As far as people having doubts about me coming back, everybody's entitled to their opinion. We live in America.''
Morgan's comeback after suffering a concussion in Carolina's season opener last year coincides with increased scrutiny about the long-term effects of multiple violent blows to the head.
A recent study of more than 2,500 retired NFL players concluded those that have sustained three or more concussions were three times more likely to have memory problems or chronic depression, and five times more likely to develop Alzheimer's disease.
``It would concern me that if he's had five documented concussions, his risk does go up according to our data,'' said Dr. Julian Bailes, the medical director for the retired players study at the University of North Carolina.
Recent reports also suggested brain damage may have been a factor in the deaths of former Philadelphia Eagles safety Andre Waters and former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive linemen Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk in recent years.
Former New England Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson has linked his depression and memory loss to concussions, and studies have shown that once you suffer a concussion, you're susceptible to more with less impact.
Faced with all that evidence, Morgan was still determined to return and went through hundreds of tests by a team of doctors.
``I just didn't go to one doctor and say, 'Oh, now I'm ready to play. I'm cleared.''' Morgan said. ``I took the necessary steps to come back. I'm smarter than that.''
At 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, Morgan has the reputation as a hard hitter with speed. And a rep of being injury prone.
Morgan, who has missed 40 of 96 games in his career, suffered his first documented concussion as a pro in 2003. He tried to return the next week, but had to leave the game due to effects of the concussion, the team said. He returned later in the season, only to leave another game with dizziness.
Still, Morgan returned for the playoffs and had 25 tackles in Carolina's loss to New England in the Super Bowl. A year later, he made the Pro Bowl despite suffering two more concussions that caused him to miss four games.
Morgan had no known concussions in 2005, but he suffered one in a preseason game last year. Three weeks later, Morgan sustained a concussion when his head hit the ground on a tackle in Week 1 against Atlanta.
He was told to sit out the rest of the season, and had numerous discussions with his wife and friends about whether to return.
``We've had lots of long conversations about this whole situation,'' said St. Louis linebacker Will Witherspoon, who played with Morgan for four seasons in Carolina. ``It's hard to talk to your buddy when you're still going out there every Sunday and he's sitting at home watching the game.''
Another former teammate, Mike Minter, understands Morgan's desire to play. Minter agonized over his decision to retire during Carolina's training camp due to sore knees, calling the decision the second toughest thing he's done - after burying his mother.
``If I was in his position I would probably be doing the same thing,'' Minter said of Morgan's return.
Morgan, who says he has had no cognitive problems, is now trying to come back after one of the longest layoffs by a player following a concussion
``There have been very few people that have ever taken off a year to rest their brains and then decided to try to come back,'' said Bailes, chairman of the department of neurosurgery at West Virginia University. ``It's an interesting concept and it will be of great interest to see how he does with that.
``We don't have any data on that and I think he's one of the few players in the modern era that is attempting that.''
Wearing a helmet with extra padding, he was held out of contact for the first couple of weeks of training camp, and sat out the Panthers' first two preseason games.
Morgan's first game back was Aug. 24 against New England. He received a rousing ovation when he was introduced before the game, but about 30 minutes later Bank of America Stadium grew quiet after he leveled a big hit on Patriots running back Sammy Morris.
Morgan got up and was fine.
``I felt great,'' Morgan said. ``It's been a year now and I've had a long time to heal up.''
The NFL has enacted tougher concussion standards for this season. Every player must now go through baseline testing involving a series of memory and concentration drills.
If a player suffers a concussion, he must retake the test to see if there's been a drop in cognitive ability before he's cleared to return.
Morgan has sacrificed financially to come back. He agreed to tear up the five-year, $28 million contract he signed in 2005. His new deal calls for the bulk of his compensation to be based on how many games he plays.
Trying to balance his desire to play and his future health, Morgan will head to St. Louis for the season opener Sept. 9 knowing another concussion likely will end his career.
He also hopes that next big hit won't lead to long-term problems.
``I do care about the future with my family more than anything. They're No. 1 in my life,'' Morgan said. ``If I felt like there was a threat to me to come back and I was going to put my health in great danger to my family I wouldn't have came back.''
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AP Sports Writer R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this story.
 

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