Sullivan weighs seriousness of concussions

John Sullivan has suffered five concussions in his seven-year career, but he doesn’t believe his future is “in doubt.” He weighs the severity of the concussions against the number of them.

After taking a knee to the helmet and suffering a concussion last Sunday, Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan was fighting an inner battle.

Sullivan wanted to play. He felt guilty not being there for his teammates. And, after an initial and short-lived spell of dizziness, he felt fine.

After sitting on the bench for a short time, the Vikings’ medical personnel convinced Sullivan to go to the locker room for more concussion testing. It during his trip to the locker room that he felt a second spell of dizziness and realized he probably wasn’t going to be put back in the game.

“It’s hard because you can get caught up in the moment. I wanted to go back into that game. It’s tough because you don’t want to tell a guy how to live your life, but we have a responsibility to be honest about what we’re going through with those hits and it’s really difficult to do any studies if guys aren’t being truthful about what they’re going through,” Sullivan said. “It’s hard because you feel like you have a duty to yourself and your health and your family to tell the truth and at the same time, even though you are suffering symptoms, you feel like you are letting your teammates down because you’re not out there. I felt horrible that I wasn’t able to play the rest of the game, but I had to be honest.”

As a seven-year veteran with the Vikings and one of the team’s player representatives for the NFL Players Association, Sullivan knows about the concussion studies that have dominated the NFL’s offseason headlines and how serious concussions can be to a player’s post-NFL life. But he cautioned that the number of concussions isn’t the be-all, end-all on the discussion of long-term ramifications.

“I’ll play the exact same way I would have, regardless,” he said on Friday. “The other thing is, you can talk about the number, but if I had lied my way back onto the field I would still be at four, so what difference would that make? So what point is there getting caught up in the number? It just means I was honest five times.”

He admitted there could be more than the five that have been diagnosed since he joined the NFL in 2008. He can name every one of them, starting with the first one suffered in his rookie season. The one he suffered on Sunday was because of a knee to the helmet his took from fellow offensive lineman Matt Kalil as Sullivan went to cut block Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes.

“It’s not really that first hit that you’re concerned about, it’s the fact that if you stay in the game and, heaven forbid you catch a really big hit, now you could be pretty messed up,” he said. “I could have gone back in and played the whole game and not caught another bad hit to the head and I would have been fine. But you never know and it’s really not a chance that obviously the NFL wants guys taking.”

Sullivan went through all the post-concussion protocol. He passed his initial ImPACT testing that is measured against baseline tests players take before the season. He later passed exercise testing and then more testing after lifting weights. He returned to practice on a full-time basis Friday.

He said he didn’t have any sensitivity to light, one of the potential effects of a concussion, but …

“You do get emotional. When you come out of the game, you get emotional,” he said. “It’s hard. You feel like you’re letting people down.”

He said he feels “normal” now and reiterated that the knee to the head wasn’t a “catastrophic” hit. But after five concussions, he has had to weigh the number of them against the severity of them.

“It’s not so much about the number specifically. If you were to have five concussions where your symptoms subside in a matter of days and you don’t even miss a game, is that as serious as one concussion that keeps you out for six months?” Sullivan said. “There’s a little bit of a give and take right there, and I’ve always been able to recuperate pretty quickly. I feel like my future isn’t in doubt.”

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