DeAndre Levy not 'demonizing football,' but wants players to know risks

Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said that being sidelined last season gave him time to think about the issue of CTE and how players need to be able to make informed decisions. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

DeAndre Levy missed all but one-half of one game of the 2015 season, and it gave the Detroit Lions linebacker some time to think. He looked around the league, saw what was happening to former players, and started to form questions.

Specifically, he was curious about what the NFL was doing about brain injuries and CTE. When he was playing, he tried not to think about it, but once he had time to watch, he saw the NFL from a different perspective.

Levy took his questions to Instagram last week, using the social-media platform to ask the NFL about CTE, concussions and brain injuries, and explained why in an email to ESPN.com on Tuesday night.

“I feel it’s important for current players to be a part of the discussion,” Levy said. “Not just former players or families of deceased players. I thought my questions were fair questions that deserve answers, not only for myself, but for other players, former, current and future, in order for the sport to move forward.”

Levy questioned why the league still employed Dr. Elliot Pellman despite his denying a link between CTE and football. Pellman had been chairman of the league’s concussion research committee and a New York Jets team doctor.

The league responded to ESPN.com and Levy last week about Pellman, saying he is no longer part of a medical committee for the NFL, but he handles administrative functions for league committees.

“They didn’t answer 'why,'" Levy wrote in the email. “I question why they are so insistent upon continuing employing a man whose actions threatened the well-being of their greatest asset, the players. He’s still employed [despite] having openly denied the link, and beyond that covering it up. There were a lot of people involved, but he was a central figure.

“There needs to be more transparency for the players and future players that aspire to get to this level, so they are informed enough to know the risks along with the rewards. Even for former players, so that they can be prepared for the issues that may come. Right now, their only way of dealing with it is suggesting that it’s the way we play that causes concussions, not the fact that football itself is inherently a violent sport.

“I hate cigarettes, but at least their corporations come out and say ‘Our cigarettes cause cancer. Maybe you’ll get it, maybe you won’t. Your choice.’ Being sidelined last year allowed me to look closely at the risks and rewards and make an informed decision that I want to keep playing. Everyone should have enough information to make an informed decision. The next generation of players need to know the rewards and the risks.”

Levy also asked why the league pulled funding from a Boston University brain study in December, but league spokesman Brian McCarthy said that assertion was incorrect. He said the league did not pull funding from the study and that the National Institutes of Health makes its own funding decisions.

A league official said last week in a congressional hearing that there is a link between CTE and football.

The NFL has funded other brain-injury studies. Levy wrote that he believes the league needs to be more involved in trying to help further research about potential links between football and CTE to help find ways to make the game safer. He also said he would like to see the league get behind funding for research to help find links to CTE in living players, not just those who have died. He said he believes the league “could be leaders on this issue. They certainly have access to any resource needed, but again, failing to move proactively.”

His questions are similar to those of former Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis, who spoke to ESPN about the issue last year. Mathis retired last month after 13 seasons.

Levy made it clear that he still enjoys football and wants to continue playing the game. He signed a four-year extension last season and is expected to return to the Lions as their top linebacker this fall.

“I am by no means demonizing football,” Levy said. “I want that to be clear. I made a choice to continue playing knowing the risks.

“I want future generations to enjoy it too without any unnecessary risks. I’m getting excited for the upcoming season.”