Former Sterling Heights Stevenson standout and current Kansas City Chiefs LB Frank Zombo addresses Stevenson football players at a jersey ceremony in Sterling Heights on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017. Video by Chris Nelsen, Special to the DFP.
Frank Zombo understands the risks involved with playing football.
While ankle sprains and knee injuries have always been a threat, a more serious concern has emerged — head injuries.
Zombo, an outside linebacker who recently finished his seventh NFL season and fourth with Kansas City, doesn’t believe he’s ever suffered a serious head injury, but acknowledged the possibility of long-term brain damage.
“Yeah, sometimes I feel like I’m losing my memory,” Zombo told the Free Press last Thursday at his former high school, Sterling Heights Stevenson. “But I talk to other people and they’re losing their memory, too. I think that’s just part of getting older.”
Although the NFL has disputed some research linking football to permanent head injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), nobody can deny the sport’s physical — and sometimes violent — nature.
Despite the risks, Zombo never considered quitting, nor would he stop his children from playing football.
“I’d be all for it,” said Zombo, who played at Central Michigan. “I’m not going to push anything on them, but if they want to play, I’m all for it.”
Carl Davis, a Stevenson alum and defensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is accustomed to blows to the head. Along with playing football since childhood, he used to box, too.
“This is football, it’s a tough sport,” said Davis, who also attended Thursday’s ceremony at Stevenson, which honored six former Titans that made the NFL. “You wear a helmet for a reason. You’re going to hit your head.”
Better equipment, concussion protocols and rules to prevent helmet-to-helmet contact are attempts to make football safer.
“We still have a long way to go,” Davis said. “It’s kind of hard, because if you’re playing a sport like this, how do you not have head injuries? It’s a physical game and you understand the risks.”
Despite the possibility of permanent brain damage, football remains popular among players and fans.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, I need to feed my family,” said Davis, who has no plans to quit. “If you’re a man, you’re going to do whatever it takes to feed your family, whether you love the game or not. I’m not too worried about (head injuries).”
The NFL has come under fire in recent years for trying to discredit, and possibly conceal, scientific research showing a correlation between permanent brain damage and football.
A group of former NFL players sued the league over its handling of concussions and CTE, a case settled in 2013 with a tentative agreement for the NFL to dish out $765 million to compensate victims, pay for medical exams and underwrite research.
But is the NFL safer now than it was years ago?
“I truly don’t know,” said Zombo, who won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2011. “I’m sure (the NFL) is trying because everybody has to cover their own butt.”
Zombo and Davis were joined at Thursday’s jersey ceremony by former Stevenson greats Pete Chryplewicz and Jim Szymanski. Former Titans Chris Liwienski, who did not attend, and Dan Jilek, who died in 2002, also were honored.