It's highly unusual for a player who goes on injured reserve to conduct a formal question and answer session with the media. It may even be unprecedented.
Which is why Mike Wright's latest appearance had the feel of a retirement press conference.
It may not have been, of course. The defensive lineman made clear that he hasn't come to any decisions about his football future, even though the concussions he's sustained over the past year will cost him the remainder of this season, at the very least.
Wright's 2010 season came to an abrupt halt last November after he was concussed during the Colts game. The team waited several weeks, hoping he could recover, before placing him on injured reserve. It wound up taking three-and-a-half months for Wright to heal completely.
He was back on the field with his Patriots teammates during training camp, and although he missed significant time in the preseason because of another injury, he was able to suit up for one preseason game and then the regular season opener at Miami.
Against the Dolphins, however, he incurred yet another blow to the head – not nearly as hard as the one he suffered against Indy, but similar, and violent enough to trigger the same symptoms he experienced a year ago.
Wright said he knew instantly what was wrong.
"It was kind of a side hit, just to the side of the head. A guy pulled and chipped me on the side of the head," explained Wright. "Yeah, I was just a little off, a little dizzy. Just came off to the sideline and told the trainers and the doctors immediately."
Wright credited team doctor Thomas Gill and head athletic trainer Jim Whalen with keeping him on the sideline for the remainder of that game and not allowing him to go back in and do further damage to his already sensitive brain.
That was the last time Wright was seen on the football field until the Thursday before the Jets game. He suited up in full pads that day and took part in the next day's workout in shorts and shells (smaller, lighter shoulder pads). Wright did not suffer any setbacks in those two practices, he professed to reporters, but was nevertheless inactive against the Jets and did not practice the following Wednesday. The next day, New England announced that they'd placed Wright on injured reserve again.
"It's tough to swallow," a subdued, yet positive Wright admitted. "I was working really hard to get back and definitely getting better, but it was just a little slower than we'd like. Based on my decision, and the coaches and the doctors, I think it's the right decision to take the rest of the year to let my brain heal and do it the right way and look at it from a future standpoint, and what's more important from that aspect."
In recent years, so much has been learned about concussions and other severe head injuries, thanks in part to a concerted effort on the NFL's part to study and try to prevent such debilitating injuries. For that, Wright says he's grateful that he's playing in an era when the stigma of being injured, particularly to the head, is wearing off and more attention is being paid to concussions and their side effects, both short- and long-term.
Wright's concussions severely affected his vestibular system (the inner ear and brainstem), where, among other actions, motion is detected, reflexive movement of the eyes and limbs is controlled, and balance is determined.
The most mundane of daily activities, therefore – watching television using a computer, reading a book – have caused Wright great difficulties while he's endured his concussion symptoms. Bouts of motion sickness would also arise unexpectedly. With so much free time, Wright explained, his mind would wander and he would become anxious, which only exacerbated the problem. He has had to learn to control his emotions to help allow his brain to heal properly.
Consequently, Wright maintains he's not thinking too far into the future, but he did concede that he's aware his condition could cost him his playing career.
"Worrying about the future is not going to help me get better right now. We'll worry about that later," he proclaimed.
For the time being, Wright plans to remain a presence at Gillette Stadium. He can do limited workouts, he revealed, and hopes to spread his concussion message to teammates and anyone else who's willing to listen.
"That pushing through getting hit on the field and being dizzy is not normal," Wright added. "Your brain is extremely important. You have no idea what your brain has to process just to stand up out of a chair.
"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 look out for the other guys on the field, because football is a game of toughness. Some guys feel like minor pain or minor dizziness is OK, but it's not. When it comes to your brain, it's very serious, and it's nothing to play with. I just hope the NFL and colleges and high schools can get a better hold on these injuries."
The last thing Wright wanted was to go on injured reserve again, but he was of a sound-enough mind to realize that had he not, he'd be putting his entire life in jeopardy.
"It's hard to pull yourself out of a locker room that you've been in for so long," he concluded. "I will be around … I have a lot of friends in there and a lot of relationships that I'm not ready to move away from right now. So, I will be here in support.
"I have a newfound respect for the brain and what it does, and I'm definitely going to spread the word."
In Wright's case, that's clearly the right thing to do.
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.