After playing in the NFL as a tight end for six seasons, Jordan Cameron has announced his retirement over concerns about how concussions may affect his physical and mental health in the future.
“I started thinking about concussions too much,” Cameron told ESPN. “You can’t play football like that.”
Throughout his six years in the league — including four with the Cleveland Browns and two with the Miami Dolphins — Cameron suffered four concussions. His latest concussion came in September when he was injured in the second quarter of a Dolphins overtime win against the Browns.
“If I didn’t get concussions, I’d probably keep playing,” Cameron said to ESPN. “It’s one of those things. I can’t risk my mental health in the future. I don’t have any symptoms now. I’m perfectly fine. But they can’t tell me with 100 percent certainty that if I keep playing and I get more concussions, that I’m going to be OK.”
After suffering from the concussion in September, Cameron struggled to get clearance to return to the field. This wasn’t the first time Cameron missed significant time due to a concussion-related injury.
He had his first concussion in December 2012 and a second in 2013. But a concussion in 2014 caused him to miss five games. He was injured in a win against the Oakland Raiders after being hit while diving for a pass.
At that time, he reached out to tight end Benjamin Watson about how to get through head injuries.
“If you look back at the concussions I’ve gotten, it’s not like I’m a fragile person. It’s not like I take a little hit and I get a concussion,” he said after missing games from a concussion in 2014, according to UPI. “I’ve taken some stuff that’s serious and if anyone was in this situation they’d get a concussion. They can watch the tape and they’ll know anyone would’ve gotten concussions in those situations.”
Cameron Calls Family Motivating Factor for Retirement
One of the motivating factors behind his decision was his family, particularly his 8-year-old son Tristan.
“I want to be there for him,” Cameron said to ESPN. “And I want more kids, and I want to be present with them. I don’t want them dealing with things that we’ve seen some other guys are dealing with.”
When he was away from home, he would look forward to the times his mother or sister would bring Tristan to whatever city he was playing in.
Cameron has been cleared to play by a neurologist, but he knows the risks and long-term implications of repeated head trauma.
“Do I want to risk even the slightest chance of having a mental disorder or depression, all these things, for a game that has already given me what I wanted to get out of it? The answer is no,” he said.
Despite the mounting evidence chronicling the dangers of playing football, it’s not easy to walk away from the game, he said.
“It’s a hard thing because people see you and say, ‘Oh, he’s fine. He’s talking. He’s normal. He’s good.’ But you don’t wear a Band-Aid on your head when you have a concussion. There’s things going on that people can’t see.”
He went on to say that men who play football are taught to be tough and play through anything.
“That’s the hardest part of having a concussion, especially when we’re raised and bred to be tough guys and get out there and play and we all have that attitude of, ‘I can play. I can play.’ I’m physically able to play, but mentally it’s one of those things,” he said. “You’re more timid. You’re reluctant to go after a ball. You can’t play football like that.”
More NFL Players Retiring Early Over Fear of Injuries
The 28-year-old joins a growing number of NFL players who have retired early over the impact repeated head injuries could play on their health in the future.
In 2015, linebacker Chris Borland decided to retire at the age of 24 after playing a season with the San Francisco 49ers. He made the decision after talking it over with family members, current and former teammates and concussion researchers. He was concerned about the relationship between football and neurodegenerative disease.
“I feel largely the same, as sharp as I’ve ever been. For me, it’s wanting to be proactive,” Borland said to ESPN. “I’m concerned that if you wait ’til you have symptoms, it’s too late. … There are a lot of unknowns. I can’t claim that X will happen. I just want to live a long, healthy life, and I don’t want to have any neurological diseases or die younger than I would otherwise.”
Last year, left tackle D’Brickshaw Ferguson retired after playing 10 seasons with the New York Jets. He attributed the retirement to watching the movie “Concussion” and learning more about the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
“As I’ve come to find out, it isn’t just the large collisions that can be problematic, but rather the smaller collisions that don’t even amount to concussions but happen far more frequently, that are the real catalysts leading to CTE,” he wrote in an article published by Sports Illustrated.
Many of the players who have retired early over health concerns have expressed a disappointment with the league over how the NFL doesn’t protect its players. Cameron said that he hopes the league continues working on finding solutions and educating players on the dangers of concussions. He was careful not to put the blame on the NFL over whether it knew about the risks when he first started playing.
“I want to say I hope they didn’t know the serious implications of these things,” he said. “I feel like it was just starting, just on the brink of this coming to light and all the seriousness of these things. Now I feel like seven years later people know how serious this can be. Unfortunately it takes people dying to figure that out. That’s the saddest thing in the world to me.”