Luke Kuechly on Wednesday made his first public comments since he tearfully exited Bank of America Stadium on national television. A few hours later, I’m still not sure what to make of it all.
So instead of posting a potentially lengthy, disorganized piece, here are some of his most notable quotes followed by a few of my thoughts:
Excerpt from his opening statement
“I know you guys have a lot of questions about what happened (during Thursday Night Football), but we’ve moved on from that and (are) trying to put that to rest.”
He’s right. Many questions would have been about that night. And it’s not just the media who’s still wondering what exactly happened that night.
But it’s understandable why a guy whose tears have been shown again and again and again wouldn’t want to relive it from a podium.
Reporter: Are of the mindset that you’re not going to play the rest of the year?
LK: “Oh, no. (Coach Rivera) said, ‘You’re not going to play this week and then we’ll kind of go on from there.’ So I’m crossing my fingers every week that they’re going to give me the thumbs up to go. But those guys have a good plan in place of what they want to do and what’s best for the team. I’m going to prepare like I’m playing, I’m going to make sure I can be ready to go, but we’ll see what happens moving forward with it.”
Kuechly practiced again Wednesday, two days after he was held out in Washington despite clearing the league’s concussion protocol. With two games left, Rivera is leaving the door open for a possible return, but odds remain he’ll go the cautious route.
When asked if this is a case where he has to be willing to disregard what a player wants, Rivera replied:
“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of information for me to gather. So, again, being smart, being prudent and we’ll make the right decision.”
Reporter: What’s it like being in the concussion protocol?
LK: “There’s steps in place that you need to take and our guys do an excellent job of making sure that every aspect of it is crossed off. You’ve just got to go through the necessary steps to pass. There’s a couple doctors you’ve got to see. There’s a couple tests you have to pass. They do a good job with it here making sure that they don’t skip things, they don’t look over things. The whole time I’m in it, you just want to get out there as soon as you can to play, so it’s a process. I think it’s a good process. Our guys do an excellent job with it. It’s just everyone knows that I want to be out there as soon as I can, so when you’re in it, you want to get out of it.”
Which is why the protocol exists in the first place. It’s designed to protect a player from himself along with wrestling some decision making away from coaches.
So whether you agree with Rivera’s call to keep Kuechly out, it’s an uncommon move worthy of some praise in a league that generally places winning ahead of caution.
Reporter: There have been some suggestions, including from players, who said you should consider retiring. Is that something you’ve thought about even a little bit?
LK: “No. You appreciate those guys wanting what’s best for you. It’s a thing that we’re learning more about. But I trust what our doctors have to say. I trust (head trainer Ryan Vermillion) and our coaches and all those guys. I want to get out there and play, and this most recent time, just like the last time, everyone said ‘You’re good to go.’ As long as what I said last year holds true — let it get better and then go from there. So I’m excited whenever the opportunity is, but I’m holding off that ‘retirement’ word for probably a little ways down the road. So it’s something you appreciate everybody concerned with how you’re doing, but whenever my opportunity comes back I’ll be back out there.”
Rookie cornerback Daryl Worley has spent two stints in the concussion protocol this season and, to the best of my knowledge, no one has asked about his future.
So why is Kuechly’s a national story?
To be frank, he’s a more important player, a perennial Pro Bowler and an icon in the community. But the bigger reason is we’ve never before seen an NFL player crying on the field after suffering a concussion.
We still aren’t fully aware of what happens to a brain when it’s concussed, but seeing Kuechly’s reaction made us digest it differently. That’s not to minimize the seriousness of the injury; it’s just an observation about some of the overreaction.
Reporter: Is it strange being on the other end of so many suggestions from people who say what you should do with your life?
LK: “I think a lot of people have an idea of what’s going on and they don’t necessarily know what’s going on with each individual person. I think there’s a stigma of what a concussion is and stuff like that, but they don’t know each individual’s situation and what’s going on with them. Like I’ve said, I appreciate everybody for the support they have and, like I said, the doctors have done a great job. But I’m going to try and get out there as soon as I can. I think everyone’s situation’s different and I think, from what I’ve been told from the people I’ve talked to, they gave me the thumbs up. I trust what those guys have to say and we’ll just go from there.”
From media to players to fans, almost everyone’s had an opinion of what Kuechly should do the past few weeks. That’s why you hope he’s surrounded himself with people he should trust. What’s impossible to ignore, though, is what’s happened to many of the players who have trusted doctors the past few decades.
The NFL is at least attempting to care more, and the Panthers have seemingly exercised the required caution over the past few years, but concussion research is still in its infancy.
Reporter: You’re a smart guy and you understand what happens to guys with multiple concussions …
LK: “What happens to them?”
Kuechly rarely, if ever, challenges reporters. This seemed his way of doing so, even if his interjection included a smile.
It’s also unlikely Kuechly was being so naive.
To me, he was addressing the elephant in the room — all the stories of former players who are now struggling physically and financially.
At any rate, onto the rest of that exchange:
Reporter: There are more guys turning up with CTE and that’s what the science is saying.
LK: “I’m not worried about that. I think there’s still a lot to be learned from it. I think there’s some studies out there that can say that, but I’m not a doctor and I trust what our guys say. I’m going to play football. That’s what I do and that’s what I like to do. I’m not concerned with that stuff until somebody tells me otherwise.”
This didn’t sound great, and it doesn’t look good in text form.
Sure, most guys just want to play football, but even the usually guarded Newton opened up in October while admitting concussions are “a real issue” and “real problem.” Kuechly wouldn’t go there, but again, I don’t think that means he’s a head-in-the-sand, “I just want to play football” kind of guy.
As restrained as Newton often is with the media, Kuechly’s even more so. He wasn’t going to go up there and admit he’s had thoughts of what the game he loves so much could be doing to his body. And even if he didn’t directly acknowledge the seriousness of all this, odds are Kuechly now knows much more about concussions than most of us.