EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It was less than a week after Sterling Shepard reported concussion symptoms to the New York Giants' medical staff the day after a game for the second time this season and found himself in the league's protocol. Already, he confided in those close to him that he felt fine and wanted to return to play.
If only it were that easy.
Shepard remained in the league's concussion protocol and practiced wearing a non-contact jersey last week in the lead-up to the Giants' game with the Arizona Cardinals. If he had his druthers, he probably would have played Sunday. Perhaps it's a good thing he doesn't.
Shepard, 26, is a football player. He loves the game. The adrenaline rush feeds his competitive juices.
But the Giants, the doctors and those around Shepard know this is a sensitive subject to navigate. He's also a young man with a wife, daughter and a second child on the way.
Shepard has had concussions surface the day after a game twice this season. Twice in a four-week span. There was also at least one nasty concussion reported while he was at Oklahoma, two in high school and a bout with migraines that had him deeply concerned during the 2017 season. These are all brain-related problems.
It makes you wonder just how dangerous it is for Shepard to step back onto the field and subject himself to more brain-rattling hits. He has seen the effects in the present, and the potential long-term risks for the future have been well documented in recent years.
"I'm not worried about it," Shepard told Newsday on Tuesday of the risks and long-term ramifications of concussions. "This is what I love to do and it's how I take care of my family. Yeah, I do have two kids and think about it from time to time, but I'll make that decision later on down the road."
The symptoms from the second concussion this season dissipated quickly. That has provided Shepard some solace. It wasn't anything like after the Dallas Cowboys game in Week 1. As a result, this isn't being viewed as a situation similar to Washington's Jordan Reed or even Indianapolis' Darius Leonard. Reed's career is in jeopardy, and Leonard said he had symptoms that lingered for weeks.
Sources close to Shepard believe that, barring a setback, he is likely to be cleared this week to face the Detroit Lions (1 p.m. ET Sunday, Fox), or prior to Week 9's Monday matchup against Dallas. He will need clearance from the team's doctors and an independent neurological consultant.
"Health is always on the front burner for us in terms of short term and long term," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said recently. "So that's why we are going to proceed like we are and just see where it takes us. He's a very competitive guy, and sometimes you can't predict when these types of injuries happen. Listen, we've got a lot of really smart people that are going to advise us on when it's best to put him on the field. When he's ready to play, he'll play. Then we'll try to do everything in our power to make sure he plays safely and has a good, long career."
It's a tricky spot, where all sides need to proceed with caution. The Giants and those around Shepard are trying to protect him from himself and are taking a long-term view, with the future being of utmost importance.
Those around him, including in the locker room, are telling him not to rush back.
"Take your time. Like I tell him, take your time. It's bigger than football. You have a beautiful family, he's successful, a deal in place he just signed this offseason, so take your time," said wide receiver Cody Latimer, who missed a game this season with a concussion and dealt with them in high school, too. "I wouldn't rush. ... You don't want to ruin it and be messed up for life. Take your time. Obviously, Shep is hungry and doesn't want to miss [games]. He's one of the hardest-working people I have ever been around."
For many, the desire to keep playing is at odds with the long-term health risks. But at least that topic is not quite as taboo as it used to be. It's something players seem to understand and even ponder, at times, more freely.
Latimer admitted contemplating whether there is a point where it might not be worth it if concussion was a regular occurrence.
"You always think about that," he said. "I don't want to be a vegetable when I'm older. I want to run around with my son. But like I said, we'll make the right decisions. We've all had concussions. I've had them in high school. We've all had 'em.
"Just take time to rest it, get back to normal, don't rush things and I think he'll be fine."
Shepard thinks he'll be fine and back on the field soon, too.