Bear Woods understands the risks he takes playing football.
The veteran linebacker will make the trip to Regina on Saturday when Toronto visits the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Woods missed the second half of the Argonauts’ 27-24 home win over the Ottawa Redblacks on Monday night following concussion protocol that included taking his helmet away.
Woods was involved in a nasty helmet-to-helmet collision with Ottawa quarterback Trevor Harris in the first half. Woods remained in the game but later was told by medical officials he’d have to undergo the protocol, effectively ending his night.
He confirmed Thursday that protocol included relieving him of his helmet so he couldn’t return to the field.
“I was looking for it pretty good, I wanted it back because I felt fine,” Woods said. “The docs make the decision, I didn’t have any say in it because at halftime I had a lot to say but it didn’t matter.
“They’re doing their job . . . I’m probably that rare player that, hey, life’s short, I want my helmet.”
Toronto also played the second half without defensive linemen Victor Butler and Cleyon Laing (both knee injuries). While Woods will make the trip west, head coach Marc Trestman said both Butler and Laing will remain home.
Woods said it was his first-ever documented concussion as a football player and it came on what he felt was a routine play.
“It (the hit) looked pretty normal on film,” he said. “On the replay, my wife told me my head went back and I went, ‘Well, if you replay all my tackles my head is probably getting crunched and going back.’
“I feel fine, I’ve had no symptoms or anything like that. Quite honestly, I go back to this: I didn’t miss a snap until they assisted me and took my stuff.”
This week, a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association said research on 202 former football players found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to repeated blows to the head. CTE can cause a range of symptoms including memory loss.
The report said CTE was diagnosed in 177 former players or nearly 90 per cent of brains studied. That included 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; seven of eight CFL players; 48 of 53 U.S. college players; nine of 14 semi-pro players and three of 14 high school players.
It wasn’t found in brains from two younger players.
“I made up my mind a long time ago I’m playing football,” Woods said. “I’m playing professional football, I put on a helmet so I can smack another grown man.
“I had someone talk about that tackle (on Harris) and they said, ‘Man, you both lowered your head.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s a football play. He wanted the first down, I wanted to stop him from getting the first down.’ Any rule that stops me from being able to make that exact play I’m not for it. I’m for the precautions and all that but at the end of the day no one is forcing me to play this game.”
Veteran offensive lineman Chris Van Zeyl, 33, in his 11th CFL season, said while he’s much more knowledgeable now about concussions, it wouldn’t change his mind about playing the game.
“Physically, playing offensive and defensive line for as long as I have, I kind of figure there’s going to be some physical limits that I’m going to have somewhere down the road,” he said. “Mentally, there are people who’ve had diseases who’ve never played football and people who’ve had more concussions that most football players I know.
“There’s a million ways to die. I really love playing this game and these studies, although they’re somewhat incriminating, they wouldn’t change my perspective regarding my love for the game.”
But concussion research has provided Van Zeyl with more options in helmet safety.
“It changes the helmet I choose every game I go out there,” he said. “I always want to have the best technology, or at least close to the best, that they can provide me.
“I want to have a great life after football and I think I will but it (brain injury research) is something I probably think about more now with all these studies than I did in the past.”
Trestman, whose coaching career spans both borders, believes football safety is a priority for the CFL and NFL.
“I know both leagues are looking at this hard,” Trestman said. “My time down south I certainly was familiar with the fact the league was sincerely interested in trying to make sure they were doing everything they could to protect the players.
“I know our league is doing the same thing and I feel strongly this will continue to evolve as we move along to try and find better ways and things to make sure our players are safe.”