SI NOW

September 28, 2015

WILLIE LANIER

The Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker discusses his history with concussions and how players should adjust the way they play the game when returning from a head injury

MAGGIE GRAY: You stay really involved with the league, especially with issues of player safety. You had a few concussions in your 11-year career. Did they change your approach to the game?

WILLIE LANIER: Jerry Mays, who was a defensive lineman for the Chiefs, named me Contact my first year [1967] because I was tackling the way all of us had been taught: Put your head between the numbers and make impact. But as you went from high school to college to the pros, the players you were tackling were bigger. Therefore the impact from a hit like that and the movement inside your skull was more dynamic. I ended up having an undetected subdural hematoma my first year. [After collapsing during a game against Houston] I was unconscious for two hours and then went to the Mayo Clinic for neurological tests. After they advised me, my name went from Contact to Honey Bear because I started to move my head to see what I was hitting and wrapped [the opponent] to make the play. That adjustment allowed me to play 10 more years without missing even a game.

MG: How can the game be made safer?

WL: It's the decision a person makes on how to play the game that can reduce the risks. It doesn't take anything away from the game [to tackle properly]. Look at my history. I missed four games my first year and then maybe a half a game over the next 10 years. I use myself as an example and try to speak to those who will listen.

For more of Lanier's interview, plus the SI Now archive, go to SI.com/sinow

"I ended up having an undetected subdural hematoma my first year."

—Willie Lanier

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PHOTOFOCUS ON SPORT/GETTY IMAGES (LANIER) PHOTOPATRICK SMITH/GETTY IMAGES (SUH) PHOTODAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP (CESPEDES) PHOTOBOB ROSATO FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (FAVRE) PHOTOPETER READ MILLER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (OWENS) PHOTONEIL LEIFER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (STENERUD) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)