Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin played 11 seasons in the NFL – three with the Patriots and eight with the Jets. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, he led the league in rushing in 2004 and he retired with 14,101 yards and 90 touchdowns.
He also suffered concussions. In fact, Martin “played with some unplayable injuries” to the point where he doesn’t know “how I did that or even why I did that.”
“I don’t know how many (concussions) I’ve had, but I just think it’s natural physics,” Martin explained on The Morning Show on CBS Sports Radio with Tiki Barber, Brandon Tierney, and Dana Jacobson. “Any time you take a guy who weighs 200 pounds and a guy who weighs 200 or 300 pounds, and you run full speed and bang heads, that’s going to happen. I think it’s part of the game. I don’t know how you avoid concussions. I don’t know if there is an answer to that, but football’s a violent sport.”
But due to the number of lawsuits the NFL is facing – Dan Marino, in fact, just withdrew his name from a concussion lawsuit – does the league have liability? Should it?
“I think what they’ve done is they’ve made the game as safe as possible,” the 41-year-old Martin said. “I’m wishing that some of the changes that are in the game now were implemented when we were playing. I think I’d probably still be playing. But again, that’s just something that I don’t know if there will ever be an answer to. I mean, how do you prevent that? I think they’re trying to do everything with the latest technology for helmets, equipment and things like that. They’ve cut back on practice. There’s limited hitting. There’s not too much that you can do unless you change the game of football – which, I don’t think anyone wants to (do).”
Luckily, Martin is in extremely good health, which in some ways came as a surprise to him. He was suffering from short-term memory loss, so his wife made him go see a doctor.
“After all the testing – I’m talking about some of the most extensive testing that could possibly be (done); it was like eight hours of testing over two days – (the doctor said), ‘Curtis, your test scores are so wicked high, they’re like on a genius level,’” Martin said. “‘The reason why you don’t remember a lot is just because your brain is so active that things that are not really, really important – it just pushes it to the back of the brain and files it in a cabinet. If you need it, you can recall it, but you might not remember it right then and there.’”
“He said my brain had the health of a kid coming out of high school who never even played football. And so, I think there are some very legitimate cases out there, but had I not got that testing, I would’ve assumed that I was one of those cases. But on the other end, he told me my brain was great.”
Martin also said what so many running backs – and NFL players in general – have said in recent years: He’d rather get hit in the head than hit in the knees. You can come back from a concussion. You might not come back from a torn ACL.
“The funny thing about concussions is that they actually feel good – for the moment,” Martin said. “You just feel like you’re dazed. It doesn’t hurt. It’s just the long-term effects (of them). I think that’s the inherent consequence of playing football.”
These days, Martin does a great deal of charity work and runs the Curtis Martin Job Foundation, which provides support to single mothers and children with disabilities, among other groups of people. He has also expressed interest in becoming an NFL executive.
Given Martin’s mindset during his playing days, none of this is surprising.
“I think that my approach toward football,” he said, “was, ‘All right, I have a talent to do this. I didn’t originally want to play football, but I realized that I would just be wasting my talent and missing out on a tremendous opportunity. So I approached football for what it was to me. It was literally a job. It wasn’t necessarily my dream, but I always thought that it would be the first step into fulfilling my dreams, and football has been great for me. I’m very grateful to football and the NFL, but at the end of the day, I always felt that it was a platform that would enable me to do all the things that I really wanted to do with my life.
“I really think if I was just one of those guys who just loved football and just couldn’t wait to play football, I don’t think my career would have been what it was,” Martin continued. “I think that’s what made my career – what made me great – was the determination, the heart, playing with all the injuries and pain that, for me, always felt like I was playing for a bigger purpose than the game itself. I think if more athletes could understand this is just a tremendous opportunity and it’s actually a tool to help equip you for your future, (they would be better off). Because at the end of the day, you’re only going to play somewhere between maybe two and 12 years, if you’re lucky. You still have a whole lot of life left, and I think a lot of people don’t (take) that into account. They put all their eggs into one basket . . . and it turns out to be detrimental because they find their identity in football. When football’s over, I’ve seen so many people take a turn for the worse because now (it’s like), Who am I?”