DeAndre Levy has been a man of many different interests, many of which are on display every offseason. He's one that generates plenty of ire from a certain sect of fans who believe that a football player's life must be dedicated every month every day every hour to the pursuit of football and not being, y'know, an actual human being.
So it would be no surprise that when Levy began to go in on the NFL and their handling of the revelations of CTE research via Instagram there would be plenty of polarization to go around. If you happen to believe a football player exists only for the sake of football, you might hate him for it. If you are one of the NFL Stans out there that believe that there is a Liberal Media conspiracy to shut down football for Reason [?????] then you might find yourself on the other side too. But by and large, Levy's comments laid bare much of what the Lions linebacker has researched and believed, which was that the NFL had botched and continues to botch their handling of the public relations and the science -- science that directly impacts Levy's health and career -- very badly.
But social media has its limitations in message, and while Twitter and Instagram and the like arguably make us more efficient in the length of a message delivered, sometimes nuance is still needed. To wit, the Detroit Free Press sought full statements from Levy, who gladly provided them Wednesday in two emails sent to the newspaper. We've reprinted them here for your perusal.
Here's the first email explaining his social media actions:
Being sidelined last year gave me a little different perspective, as opposed to when I'm playing. I get locked in and tune everything else out in the midst of the season. The last thing I want to think about while preparing or playing in a game is potential brain damage. This last year, I had a lot of hours in the training room and realized how normal injury is to us, as football players. I think about how we're almost numb to it because it's a part of the job. I became numb to the fact that CTE could be present in me. Like maybe my head buzzing a day after a game isn't normal. Maybe the emotional highs and lows of a football game/season and beyond aren't normal. Maybe when I forget something, there's more to it than just forgetfulness. Disconnected thoughts, at times, might be a part of it. I know of and have heard many players talk about these same issues and if they relate to CTE.
I think we, as players, have to acknowledge it and talk about it in a real way and demand answers. And talk about it now. I've heard people say they wouldn't let their kids play football; that says a lot about what current players think and feel about the safety of football. Compensation isn't an excuse to hide or downplay the facts. We need to know the risks and the rewards. This is an area in which the league has failed its players. Not only never talking about the risks, but some people going a step further to deny and cover it up. It's imperative to help make players, current and future, more aware of all of the challenges they may face as a result of the choice to play football. We need to have the opportunity to really understand what each other may be going through. It's scary to think I may have CTE.
I'm going to pull a Jim Caldwell and drop a quote that resonates with me: 'Silence is an action.' That's why I feel the need to say something. If I say nothing, I'm condoning the misinformation that's spreading. While the research of medical experts and doctors tells us there potentially is a direct link between football and CTE, voices continue to emerge telling us otherwise. And you have to question why. What IS the harm in being transparent about the depth of risks that accompany this sport?
The only voices we have on the subject are the league, which, unfortunately, has shown it can't be trusted. So far, we've had a rheumatologist with questionable credentials telling us that there is no link between concussions and CTE, aided in covering it up, yet is still employed by the NFL. I felt my initial questions about Elliot Pellman were fair, and every employee, fan and potential NFL player has the right to know the answer. They're still covering it up (not reporting 100 concussions, and, as of today, asking the New York Times to retract the story), and I have to question what else we will find out, years from now, that they are concealing. You can't move forward past this issue if the main culprit is still on payroll. I'm sure, if they fire him, he'll have a lot more to share about everything that went on. We just recently learned about them omitting 100 concussions as an attempt to downplay the dangers once again. I'm not asking for this game to be any less dangerous nor risky, I'm asking for there to be transparency about those risks and allow people to make their own, informed decisions. As I've stated before, I'm choosing to continue to play in spite of CTE or any other post-football health issue that may arise. But that choice doesn't justify continued denial and deflection of this issue when we now know better and have the opportunity to do better.
It's unacceptable to prioritize the marketability and profitability of football over the real health risks associated with it. There have been scores of retired players coming forward with health issues, whether they're related to CTE or not. We've found CTE in the brains of too many players upon their death. How can anyone, especially a team owner that has employed hundreds of players over the years, deny a link? It's true, we don't know a lot about this, but are they doing much to find answers? Are we going to continue to ignore even the slightest possibility that this is real? If players, your greatest asset, mattered, why would you not want to learn more?
Players make billions for the league; wouldn't learning more preserve the longevity of the game? It seems they're operating in a fear that if the real consequences are known, the sport will be in danger. The major danger is failing to be transparent. Are players' lives not in danger by covering up vital information? People love this game, and it's important to U.S. culture. Why wouldn't they invest in the well-being of the players to keep the game alive? They have endless resources to really be at the forefront of this, but instead, they just continue to question the validity of medical professionals and experts in the field. I'm no expert and neither are the owners. We have experts informing us, yet they continue to be ignored. How can you continue to support Pellman and not actual doctors? Pellman is smarter than real doctors? We have doctors and researchers who dedicate their lives to learning about the brain saying that football and CTE are connected. But they ignore that and claim they're not so sure. We're not sure; let's further the research so we can be sure.
I question whether the timing of Irsay's and Jerry Jones' comments indicate that this was discussed at the NFL owners meeting this month. Were they speaking for the whole or just themselves? My main problem with Irsay's comments is that this isn't an opinion-based issue ... it's medical experts stating facts.
Training and rehab is going great. I have been doing everything in the weight room since a few weeks after the season ended. Last thing I have to do still is actually play football.
Levy followed up on an email explaining why, if he has such misgivings about CTE and the way the NFL is handling the issue, he continues to play football:
I guess the same reason I'd climb on top of an airplane and ride it. I know the risks of camping in the Amazon almost 5 hours away from any town, city or hospital. Maybe I like the chance of beating the odds. Maybe I'm still in denial, thinking that the worst can't happen to me.
A better answer, though, is that these are relatively new revelations for me. I feel like I put all this time and effort in, and I'd be stopping short and not walking away with what I earned. Not necessarily for me, but for my family. I'm in Year 8, so, to an extent, I'm closer to finishing what I started officially 23 years ago. I've put in a lot of hours, going back to the beginning of high school, when I really decided to go for this. Dreaming of it since little league -- long before I knew anything about concussions or the long-lasting effects of the collisions. Like, my damage potentially already is done. If so, I might as well secure comfort for my family so I leave with more than just a beat-up body. If I were at the beginning of my career, it's more likely that I'd be in Bhutan or somewhere already. I really do love the competition and the challenges that football provides. At this point, it's about making sure that anyone playing across all levels know the risks so that their decision isn't based on one-sided misinformation being provided by the league.
There's a lot of nuance here and a ton of self-awareness. Levy also challenges the assertion that everyone knows what the risks are to the game. That may be true in a few years, but for players like Levy it's easy to forget that the choice to play football and attempt to make a career of it began long ago in youth and high school ball and the wild frenzy of college recruiting, when a young man's ears get filled with dreams of one day getting paid to play football by coaches of various stripes.
The current situation with the New York Times is brought up quite often and it's a new piece to the ongoing saga of denial and obfuscation by the league. Nor is anything Levy has said about Elliott Pellman, whose faults and failures have been well documented for years now, in question.
The discussion about football will only get muddier as the NFL gears up to challenge publications that question the commitment of the league's response to the crisis, certainly if the NFL intends to remain belligerent about it. The matter is certainly not helped as league cheerleaders in the sporting media and among fans begin to use the heavily politicized language that there is a "War on Football," as if there is now only two sides and you must pick the right one or else you just hate football and want to watch it die. We also must confront the growing inquisition that demands we find out who "loves the game enough" among players, of which Levy probably finds their ire.
In that light, I'm thankful for a figure like Levy taking the time to give this kind of nuance.