FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Mike Wright’s season ended prematurely due to a concussion for the second straight year Thursday, when the New England Patriots placed the veteran defensive lineman on injured reserve.
His campaign to educate players from peewee to the pros, however, is just beginning.
Wright, who missed the final seven games last season after dealing with the debilitating effects of his first concussion, suffered his second serious blow to the head in the Patriots’ season-opening with over the Miami Dolphins.
The 29-year-old eventually returned to practice for two days last week, participating in a limited capacity with the goal of playing again in the next few weeks. Then the difficult decision was rendered to end his season — again.
“I felt like I was going to be ready. Based off my concussion history and the coaches and doctors and trainers looking out for me and my best interest and my health, it was just the right decision to do what we did,” Wright said Friday. “I did not want to go on IR. It’s the last thing I wanted to do. I was really looking forward to being a part of this team this year and there’s a lot of great players in there that I wanted to continue to play with. But that’s not in the cards.”
With a renewed respect for concussions and the problems they pose in everyday life, Wright is hoping his cautionary tale reaches not just kids, but also his teammates.
“Pushing through getting hit on the field and being dizzy is not normal. Your brain is extremely important. You have no idea what your brain has to process to even stand up out of a chair,” Wright said. “I think it’s great what the NFL’s doing now to educate everyone, but I think kids and high school players can learn a lot and they need to keep their ears open and they need to look o ut for the other guys on the field because football is a game of toughness and some guys feel like minor pain or minor dizziness is OK, but it’s not.
“When it comes to your brain, it’s very, very serious and it’s nothing to play with.”
Wright discovered that the hard way.
It took him roughly 3 1-2 months to recover from his first concussion last season. Watching television triggered a motion-sickness feeling. Using the computer caused dizziness. Reading became a chore.
“You’re just basically trying to relax your brain most of the day to let it heal,” Wright explained, adding he still experiences similar issues. “At the same time, anxiety comes with that. When you’re not able to do those things your mind just wanders, and as you know, it just goes all over the place.
“That’s why last year was a little bit harder for me, but this year I’m able to control that a little bit better and understand what comes with anxiety and how that affects the concussion,” he added. “But this year, like I said, I’m doing so much better, and that’s a great feeling to know that I’m not going to have to deal with that that long and it will clear up soon.”
Wright’s mindset toward concussions has changed dramatically since his days in college. Credit that to an abundance of research conducted over the past few years that’s illustrated the drastic and long-term effects they can have on players in the latter stages of life.
“You don’t think about it the same way,” Wright said of his earlier playing days. “It’s not a big deal. It’s OK to have your head a little sore in training camp or certain things like that, and it’s OK to kind of shake a little dizziness off, you take big blows or you see stars.
“But like I said, I have a newfound respect for the brain and what it does just based off what I’ve felt.”
Injuries, though, are nothing new to Wright.
Signed by New England in 2005 as an undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati, his first season was cut short by an ankle injury after 13 games, and a foot ailment ended his 2007 campaign after nine games. Despite registering 134 tackles and 15 sacks in 81 career games with the Patriots — including one tackle and a half-sack against Miami in the opener — four of Wright’s seven seasons have ended with him on injured reserve.
“I respect Mike and his work ethic and his commitment for the team,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He always tried to do the best thing for the team and always practiced hard, worked hard, did everything he could to come back from anything as quickly as possible, always wanted to do the right thing.
“He’s very team oriented, very professional, a good teammate and I just feel badly for him the way the last two seasons have gone. He just hasn’t an opportunity to do the things that he’s worked so hard to do. But at the same time, it’s a medical decision. We have to do what’s right for him.”
Wright feels lucky that the medical personnel did exactly that.
He knew immediately upon getting hit against the Dolphins that something was awry. The blow to the head, similar to the one that ended his season last year, caused him dizziness and commenced other symptoms that eventually developed into more of a problem than he had initially thought.
“I’m fortunate for Dr. (Thomas) Gill and (Patriots head athletic trainer) Jim (Whalen) that they kept me out of that game because something that minor, guys can go back in all the time,” he said. “So I’m very fortunate to have guys like that looking out for me.”
Wright plans on remaining around the Patriots for the rest of the season, working out and supporting his teammates in the process.
“It’s hard to pull yourself out of a locker room that you’ve been in for so long,” he said. “I have a lot of friends in there, other relationships that I’m not ready to move away from right now.”
He also wasn’t ready on Friday to discuss whether or not his career is over.
“I think I’ll make that decision with the doctors and the coaches after the season,” he said. “Right now my focus is just getting everything better and going back to normal.”