Seth Payne, a fourth-round draft pick in 1997, played in the NFL for a decade. He spent time with Jacksonville, where he payed from 1997 to 2001, and Houston, where he played from 2002 to 2006. Payne, 41, didn’t retire all that long ago, relatively speaking, but the heightened sense of awareness regarding player safety, as compared to his playing days, has been night and day.
“I look at a guy like Brian Cushing,” the former NFL defensive tackle and current SportsRadio 610 morning host said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Nobody around here is going to question his toughness at all. That’s when I really realized that players were viewing things differently. A couple years ago, he got dinged in a game and he was coming to the sideline and he’s pointing to his head and knew that he needed to be taken out. I think up until four years ago or maybe even the previous season for Brian Cushing, most players, they would have thought, ‘Oh, I just got my bell rung, and that’s all there is to it.’”
During Payne’s career, he could sometimes enter the film room and think there was something wrong with the projector. Was it out of focus? Was he just tired? Did he need more coffee?
“Looking back on it, I probably had a minor concussion,” Payne said. “I know I’m not supposed to say minor, but I had a concussion. My wife would come down in the morning after I’d already left for work, and the milk would be in the cupboard and the cereal would be in the refrigerator – and it would only happen during the season. We laughed about it at the time, and I, so far, knock on wood, seem to have been lucky, and I try to do a bunch of stuff to take care of my brain and take care of my self for the long term. But its funny how much that’s gone from something you used to laugh about to something that now you know – and players today know – ‘All right, I got to really pay attention to this.’”
Last December, Ben Roethlisberger removed himself from a game with a concussion.
“That’s a guy that was riding a motorcycle without a helmet (10) years ago,” Payne said. “Talk about a guy that’s changed his attitude about how he has to treat his body. I think a lot of the machismo has been taken out of it. (Family is) the key word. You start thinking about the long-term repercussions and I’ve got a kid to take care of. If there’s a chance I’m going to be putting my kid through something miserable 20, 30 years from now, I got to be careful about what I’m doing out there.”
Players also need to be careful in training camp. You won’t see too many concussions in practice, but torn ACLs are fair game.
“That’s something you’re concerned about more and more as you get older,” Payne said of the preseason injury bug. “It’s the trickiest thing in football, maybe more so than in almost any other sport. Just how hard it is to simulate the game while not going speed. How do you find that balance between going full speed and being sharp? If you go out and do Oklahoma drills everyday and go full scrimmage, you’d be really sharp for about 36 hours and then you’d lose your starting left tackle. That’s always the balance. You always keep it in mind. And the veterans get good at figuring out how to go hard without hurting anybody. That’s alway the balance you want: How do I go hard without going to the ground? How do I go hard without being out of control?”