Former Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy testified Friday before Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on the Judiciary, saying the franchise tried to silence him from talking about brain injuries, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and the NFL.
Levy's testimony came during a forum about football and brain injuries with doctors, brain-injury specialists and former NFL players.
In response to a question from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas about whether he believes owners understand the gravity of the issue and potential federal intervention, Levy said he doesn't believe the league's owners are in touch with the issue. Levy also said that after he spoke with ESPN last year and wrote a letter to the Detroit Free Press about CTE, the Lions told him not to speak about it.
"Even in my experience, like the letter you brought up, the moment I said anything about it, I had two calls telling me I shouldn't talk about it," Levy testified Friday. "And I don't know if it was because of CTE or if it's because the general NFL rule, like only football, only talk about football, only think about football. So I posted simply the research. I spoke with Dr. [Robert] Stern a couple summers ago, and I wrote the paper and was told not to talk about it the first day it was out. It was like, it could have been just because locker room culture is nobody wants to talk about anything other than football, but it didn't sit well with me when I'm talking about brain injury, you know, my brain.
"It's not my shoulder. It's my brain. It controls everything I do. It controls everything we think, we feel, and if I don't have the right to speak about that as a player, I think it kind of really speaks about the culture of the NFL, what the conversations are. I think that's indicative of the conversations that we don't hear, the closed-door conversations between the owners. They still are trying to find ways to silence us."
On Friday evening, the Lions released a statement saying, "We are aware of [Levy's] comments and we strongly disagree with his claim that anyone from our organization tried to silence him."
"We are aware of [Levy's] comments and we strongly disagree with his claim that anyone from our organization tried to silence him." Detroit Lions statement
Reached Friday evening by ESPN, Levy declined further comment on his testimony but said he stands by everything he said earlier in the day.
Levy said in the forum that throughout his time in the league, teams often addressed "hot topics" that came up, including domestic violence and gun issues. Never, he said, did anyone discuss CTE or brain injuries. He also said he believes the only people who care about the issue within the league right now are the players.
He testified that he believes full-contact practices should be stopped until more research is completed. He estimated he took 20-30 subconcussive hits in practice daily.
"It's just inherently a violent sport, and just to survive and not get injured, you're going to open yourself to some of the risks. So I think right now, we should try to find ways to limit those risks and cut down on the unnecessary collisions," Levy said. "I don't think we should be in any collisions other than on Sunday. Makes no sense.
"I went into games on Sunday with my neck and my head aching just because of Wednesday and Thursday, and I think we can cut that down until we figure out a more substantial answer. I think right now, I think the players that don't know, right now they don't know what's coming. We got to find a way to get that message into the locker room."
"It's my brain. It controls everything I do. It controls everything we think, we feel, and if I don't have the right to speak about that as a player, I think it kind of really speaks about the culture of the NFL, what the conversations are." Former Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy
Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. John Conyers of Michigan quoted the letter Levy wrote to the Free Press in 2016 regarding CTE and demanding answers. Levy said the contents were triggered by a conversation he had in the Detroit locker room with "eight or nine guys." In that conversation, he said, they joked about forgetfulness, but none of the players knew about the research and links between the game and CTE. That, he said, bothered him.
"For a long time, I was unable to link it. I had memory issues. I had times during the day, during the week, where my mood just switches, and I don't know why," Levy said. "And I can't control it. I can't come out of a funk. It's like a fog over me."
Levy began speaking out about the NFL and how it handled CTE during the offseason prior to the 2016 season. He began by posting questions and statements on Instagram and followed up with letters and interviews with ESPN and the Free Press.
He remained outspoken about the issue throughout his final year with the Lions, even when he was rehabilitating a knee injury that eventually ended his time with the team and led to him filing an injury grievance against the Lions earlier this year.
At the same time he was speaking out about brain injuries, he was tight-lipped about his knee injury, in accordance with team policy. When Lions players are asked about injuries, they usually refer all questions to Lions coach Jim Caldwell. In the Lions' media policies, it states that "all questions regarding injuries should be directed to head coach Jim Caldwell."
Caldwell generally will only disclose information available on the league-mandated injury report: what body part is injured and the player's practice status.
Even when Levy voiced rare frustration about his injury, he did not provide many specifics about the injury itself.
Levy also briefly addressed painkillers in the sport on Friday. He said he believes the league has gotten better with that issue the past few years.
"My first few years in the league, I could get Vicodin like Skittles," Levy said. "Like, you could get Toradol shots like it was nothing. That, any anti-inflammatory, painkiller to get you through the week, and as a player, I mean, it's on the doctor's hands to control it, I think, and monitor, especially when you consider some of the psychological effects a player may have, maybe him going in four times a day and getting two Vicodin each time isn't a good thing to do.
"And, again, it goes back to education. Like, we don't talk about the effects of any of the drugs we're getting. It's a 16-week season. People are trying to make it through. Doctor says it's all right, it's all right."