Calvin Johnson has openly criticized the Detroit Lions on more than one occasion since he made the shocking decision to retire from the NFL at age 30 three years ago, but the latest revelation he made about his time with the franchise may be the most damning.
In a lengthy interview with Michael Rosenberg of The MMQB, Johnson criticized NFL teams for only caring about their “product” and not the welfare of players. He spoke about the rampant opioid abuse across the league, and he also recalled a time when he suffered a concussion and the Lions made him lie about it.
Johnson said he suffered so many concussions playing football that he got used to them and could recognize the signs, which included “seeing stars” and having impaired vision. He says he sustained one in a game against the Minnesota Vikings back in 2012, but the Lions were unhappy that he spoke about it publicly.
“I knew I was concussed because I blacked out. I wasn’t seeing straight,” Johnson said. “And they wanted me to change my story.”
Johnson sat out six offensive plays in the 2012 game after taking a big hit from then-Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. He returned the next offensive series. Johnson confirmed after the game that he had suffered a concussion and said he also suffered nerve damage and was having trouble gripping a football. The Lions released a statement saying neither assessment was accurate.
“In response to the various reports (Thursday) regarding Calvin Johnson and injuries, we reiterate that Calvin did not suffer a concussion at any time this season,” the team said at the time. “With respect to the Minnesota game on Sept. 30, Calvin sustained a hit that resulted in him being removed from the game and evaluated pursuant to the appropriate concussion protocol by our team doctors.
“He also was subsequently examined the following day and was found to have no concussion. Additionally, Calvin did not suffer any nerve damage. He sustained what is referred to as a stinger Sept. 30 and was able to finish the game.”
Johnson initially declined comment when reporters sought clarification, but he later released a statement of his own through the team.
“I would like to clarify some of my comments from yesterday. I am aware that I did not suffer a concussion in our game against the Vikings earlier this year,” the statement read. “I misused the terms ‘nerve damage’ and ‘concussion.’ I have not suffered any nerve damage nor have I received any treatment for nerve damage. I did suffer a stringer in the game against Minnesota and also have experienced the kind of wear and tear that most NFL players are dealing with at this point in the season.”
The statement read like it was given from someone who was called to the principal’s office, and Johnson said that’s basically what happened. He said he played through concussions many times because that’s what you have to do to earn “Employee of the Month,” as Rosenberg termed it.
Johnson has had a very public dispute with the Lions over his signing bonus, but it’s clear the hostility he feels toward the organization has to do with more than just money. If the Lions forced him to cover up a concussion to make themselves look better, you can understand why he’d be bitter about that.