Felton: Can't ponder risks while playing

Jerome Felton admits he leads with his head when blocking and knows the risks, but he isn't willing to ponder them while he is still playing. In the wake of the PBS documentary on the NFL and concussions, the Vikings' physical fullback gave his view on the matter.

PBS ran a two-hour documentary on Tuesday that was, in many ways, an indictment of how the NFL has historically handled concussions among their players. On the investigative series "Frontline," the title of the program was essentially all one needed to know to ascertain the tone of the show – "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis."

At a time when the league is taking tangible steps to come up with concussion protocols to deal with head injuries, there are certain players whose job it is to initiate contact – often leading with the head. Fullbacks by the nature of their job are involved in collisions. They seek out contact. Jerome Felton is one of the league's top fullbacks. He made the Pro Bowl last year as the lead blocker for Adrian Peterson and he understands the ramifications of what he has to do.

Felton said he has seen several documentaries and stories about the causational link between playing football and sustaining potential life-altering injury to the brain. He has been taken aback by some of the information he has seen and some of the former players he has met that are struggling for their quality of life, but added it's the nature of the beast of playing NFL football.

"From a day-to-day basis, I don't think about it that much," Felton said. "I have seen some specials that make you sit back and think. It's a concern, obviously, because I care about my health. It's important to myself and my family moving forward. But I live for today and this is my job to help me take care of my family."

While he may have concerns, Felton hasn't changed his smashmouth style, which brings it to defensive players as one of the rare offensive players whose job is to play like a defensive player – attacking, hitting and eliminating players from getting to Peterson or his quarterback.

"I can't worry about that while I'm playing," Felton said. "I enjoy playing this game and there are risks that go along with playing it. I've assumed those risks, so it is what it is."

The NFL hasn't fully admitted publicly that playing football has a direct link to brain trauma that can lead to dementia in later life, but it has made an impact on Felton. While it won't change his style of play, it may well impact how long he is willing to take the physical risks that come with being a bruising NFL fullback.

"When I see specials or situations that are coming up with older players, it's definitely a concern," Felton said. "It alerts you. Maybe you don't push for that 12th or 13th year when you get there. Those are the decisions I have to make when then time comes, but this is my job and allows me to take care of my family, so I assume that risk."

In his sixth season, Felton has taken a few lumps and had stringers and collisions that are typically described as "getting your bell rung," but, in terms of significant diagnosed concussions, he's dodged that bullet. Asked if he's ever had a serious concussion, Felton got a little superstitious.

"No, knock in wood," Felton said with a smile, leaning over to knock on a locker room table. "I have been dinged, but it hasn't been a lot. I think I've been kind of lucky with that and hopefully that will continue."

Whether or not Felton is one of the lucky ones, he has done his part to tempt fate. By his own admission, his game is one that could easily lend itself to concussions because he plays with a high-impact style.

"The scary thing is that I do use my head a lot," Felton said. "That's the kind of fullback I am. I try to blow people up – run through and lead with my head. That's something you have to think about, but that's what it takes for me to do my job."

As more evidence surfaces with a link between helmet-to-helmet hits and long-term health ramifications, the NFL is making changes. However, one position that doesn't appear to have any chance of changing anytime soon is fullback. They will continue to be crash test dummies that run into brick walls to open plays up for running backs and quarterbacks. There is no such thing as a finesse fullback. If there have been, they don't last long.

"The first finesse fullback you meet, he'll be out of the league the next day," Felton said.


John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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