ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Golden Tate started playing football, he didn’t know much about concussions. He had heard about them, sure, but the Detroit Lions receiver figured they were like any other injury.
You get hurt. You heal. Long-term effects were minimal.
Now the Lions receiver knows better, and he thinks about it a lot. It’s forced him to consider how he plays and to be more conscious of where his head is -- literally -- whenever he’s on the field.
“It’s something that goes through my head pretty frequently, especially with all the research coming out,” Tate said. “I feel like when I started the game, I didn’t understand what could happen in the future. I thought a concussion, that you just couldn’t remember a few things for a few days and then you’re back to normal.
“Now, there’s so much research out there that shows it can hurt you in the future. I think right now, I got to learn to play a little bit smarter. Still play tough and play hard, but just really try to protect my head the best I can. I thought last year I did a pretty decent job protecting my head from hits, but then the ground would kind of, I would hit the ground a lot.”
Tate said he learned more about the toll of consistent hits could do to NFL players as they get older, both in football and outside of it. He has done research about concussions and brain injuries because of his own career and also because of one of his outside ventures as a co-owner of Gamebreaker helmets, a soft-shell helmet company trying to outfit flag football leagues and other youth contact sports with protective headgear.
When he talked Thursday about Calvin Johnson’s retirement, he pointed to health as a factor. Tate said how important it is to be able to take any kids he might have in the future to the park or to remember their birthdays. The 27-year-old Tate said he would ideally like to play another eight or nine seasons, but wants to be able to leave the NFL on his own terms, not because teams were no longer interested in him or due to injury.
That’s another area where his attempt to play smarter could matter. But even as Tate said he wants to play smarter and focus on protecting his head, he’s still a football player. He still wants to win -- desperately -- and would do a lot to try to get the Lions back to the playoffs.
It could include one of the more dangerous plays in the game -- punt return. Tate was Detroit’s primary punt returner last season and it was a staple of his early-career work in Seattle.
“I’m willing to do whatever is going to help us win and get back to the playoffs. That’s where it’s going to start and finish for me,” Tate said. “I want to help this team win. I love any time I can get the ball in my hands. It’s another opportunity for me to do something special, help the offense get a first down or maybe even take one to the house. It’s just another opportunity.
“Any time I get the ball in my hands, my eyes are going to light up. So, you know, I’d like to be on punt return. I enjoyed it.”