Vikings safety Husain Abdullah has endured many more bad days than good over the last five months.
Last Tuesday, Abdullah flew to Pittsburgh to meet with Dr. Michael (Micky) Collins and the staff at the Center for Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He spent most of Wednesday meeting with Dr. Collins and concussion specialists and got the news he had been praying for – he can continue playing football.
“I got the news I was hoping for so much – they said my concussions aren’t career-threatening,” Abdullah said. “When I told them my symptoms and they looked at my MRI’s, they were able to pinpoint what the specific injury was and what I can do to rehab my brain. I didn’t even think that was possible.”
As Abdullah flew from the Twin Cities to Pittsburgh Tuesday, he didn’t know the answer to the literal million-dollar question of whether he can continue to play football or not. As an unrestricted free agent, Abdullah knew there were already going to be a number of teams that wouldn’t consider signing him to a long-term free-agent deal because he has suffered four concussions in the last two seasons – a span of just 16 months. What was gnawing at Abdullah was whether or not he was going to be told it was in his best interest to retire or be told he was good to continue playing without fear of making a bad situation worse.
“To be honest, that was the worst part,” Abdullah said. “Anyone who has played football – or probably any other professional sport – has probably had a concussion. It’s part of the game because of its physical nature. For me, not knowing if I could continue playing was the worst part. These guys are the ultimate experts. If I had gone out there earlier, I would have saved myself a lot of worrying.”
Abdullah refused to admit that he was scared of the news he was going to get, but realized there was the potential he was going to get bad news from Dr. Collins and his team. As much as Abdullah didn’t want to admit it, doubts had crept into the back of his mind and started working on his psyche.
“In a lot of ways, it was like a coin flip,” Abdullah said. “I love football and there’s nothing more I wanted than to be told I can continue playing. But, at the same time, if they had given me bad news, I had tried to prepare myself for that as best I could. The last thing I want to do is hang up my cleats, but, when it comes to the health of your brain, you have to ask yourself: What price are you willing to pay to keep playing football? I just tried to stay positive.”
Abdullah’s worries were based on his symptoms, which, as an athlete, he had a difficult time understanding. He would get a “foggy” feeling, life in general seemed to move by a littler slower than usual, he was constantly a step behind his typical routine and quick movements were an issue. He said the best advice the doctors gave him was that, while hitting with the helmet is part of playing football, there are other options.
“They told me God gave us two shoulders and one head, so you can do twice as much hitting with yours shoulders than hitting with your head,” Abdullah said. “They sent me home with more information than I could have imagined about what concussions do to you. I think I learned more Wednesday than any day of my life. Getting good news on top of it made it a great day for me.”
Abdullah said he hopes to help other players who are in his shoes at some point and let them know that, thanks to medical advancements, concussions are treatable once they are properly identified. He said former players should take the opportunity to allay their own fears about their future lives, because, like him, they have spent many hours not knowing what their future holds because they didn’t play during an era of concussion enlightenment.
“The scariest part is the wondering and worrying,” Abdullah said. “Back in the day, (team medical personnel) just told you that you ‘got your bell rung’ and sent you back out to play. They have made such advancements in medicine and in technology that they can identify the problem areas and start a treatment program immediately to make it better.”
Abdullah had nothing but praise for Dr. Collins and his staff, who are becoming the concussion equivalent to Dr. James Andrews in the surgery field.
“They’re the ones that created the impact tests and are recommended as the best in the business of dealing with concussions,” Abdullah said. “One of the first things they told me was that concussions aren’t created equal. Each one is unique to itself and, depending on the severity, you go from that point in treatment. Some people can have six or seven concussions and still be fine in the long-term. Others can have one and that’s the end of it.”
Abdullah’s primary concern over the last couple of months has been dealing with the unknowns after suffering four concussions. While great progress has been made in recent years, he said much work remains in the field, as more players like him sustain concussions and need to be assured that they’re not endangering their quality of life by playing the sport they love.
“Concussions aren’t like breaking a leg or tearing a ligament,” Abdullah said. “You know what you’re up against with those. Concussions are different. It’s your brain. A broken leg will heal. You’re never sure with your brain. I’ve had four (concussion) in less than two years, but mine have been the types that are manageable and treatable. They told me I will be fine and, when I get on the field next, it will be like I haven’t had any. If I get one that is really serious, that will probably be it. But every player is at that point – whether he’s been lucky enough to never have a concussion or not, is likely going to get one at some point. Each one is different. Some heal quickly. Others don’t. The good news is we’re learning how to tell the difference between ones that will go away and ones that will linger with you for the rest of your life in some form.”
Abdullah will be going back to Pittsburgh in late February or early March for a follow-up visit – prior to the start of free agency. He said that trip will be much different. When he boarded his plane Tuesday, he didn’t know whether he had an NFL future. The next time he goes, he does so knowing he has a new lease on his NFL life.
“I can’t tell you how relieved I was coming back to Minnesota on Thursday,” Abdullah said. “I went out there hoping and praying I was going to be fine and that my career would continue, but not knowing. Now I feel like I’ve been given that chance again and all I can say is that there has been a sense of relief that’s hard to explain. I get to keep playing the game I love.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.