After absorbing the initial shock that his football career likely had ended, Journey Brown asked himself a sobering question about playing again.
"If I were to die on a Penn State football field, what would that do to the team?" the former running back said in a new interview.
In his first public interview since announcing his medical retirement from football last November, Brown described the shock of learning about his career-ending heart condition, his method of processing the situation and his hope for a future beyond the game.
Brown also twice described himself with a term that he has used often to explain how he emerged from a tight-knit family in Meadville, Pa., to become one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten. And then to end a career as it was beginning.
"I'm actually excited to see what comes next for myself," Brown said. "Now that football is not in the picture, I can take all that energy in my life and put it forth to whatever I need to do.
"For whatever comes next and for whatever I choose to do and whatever seems most attractive to me, if it's in coaching or if it's in my major [recreation, park & tourism management], they just better be ready for 100-percent effort. And like I said, a reguar-degular, goofy, cool-cat guy."
In the new interview, conducted by Mitch Gerber of Penn State's Athletic Communications department, Brown discussed being diagnosed last fall with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick. Penn State coach James Franklin announced Brown's decision to retire from football Nov. 11.
Franklin said then that the condition was discovered during a COVID-19 test in September but was not related to the virus. According to the American Heart Association, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common form of genetic heart disease. It also is "the most common reason for sudden cardiac death in young people and athletes under the age of 35," according to the AMA. Those diagnosed with it are encouraged to make lifestyle changes, including limiting their physical activity.
Following the initial diagnosis, Brown said he received a second opinion from the Cleveland Clinic. Told once again that he shouldn't play football again, Brown went home, lay on his floor and thought about his family and future.
Brown has dealt with multiple family tragedies over the years, discussing them openly during his career at Penn State. In the interview, Brown said he didn't want to add to his family's burden.
"I keep saying it in my head: I wouldn’t want it to be anybody else," Brown said.
Brown concluded 2019 with such promise, particularly in the season's second half. He averaged 118.6 yards per game over the last five, including his 202-yard performance against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl that set a Penn State bowl record.
He entered the 2020 season among the Big Ten's top backs and with a promising future in the NFL. Even as late as Oct. 1, when he met with reporters as part of Penn State's football media day, Brown was looking forward to the season.
"I know I'm more than a football player, but this is what I felt like I was made for," Brown said in the Penn State interview.
Brown remained an integral part of the team this season, even making a celebratory television appearance during the Michigan State game. He carried Jahan Dotson across the sideline after Dotson's 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. Brown did the same after Dotson's two touchdowns the following week against Illinois.
"Everybody will tell you, this whole program, how he affected everybody, every position, on this team," Penn State running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider said during the season. "He's just an infectious person and when he comes around you, you get brighter because of the type of attitude he puts out there in front of you I don't know where it's going to go for him, but I'm happy he's here with us."
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