Thomas: I Wouldn't Tell People Not To Play Football

His Decision To Retire Was About His Desire To Pursue His Second Career In Studying Brain Injuries

Reiter Than You
August 28, 2018 - 9:56 am
Julius Thomas gets past Jordan Poyer during the second quarter at New Era Field in Buffalo.

USA Today Sports Images

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7-year NFL veteran and 2x Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas made headlines this week when he decided to hang up his cleats at just 30-years-old.

Thomas caught 226 receptions for 2,406 yards and 36 touchdowns throughout his career playing for the Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Miami Dolphins.

The former tight end is certainly young enough to continue his NFL career. However Thomas' decision to retire was about his true desire to pursue his second career in studying one of football's scariest issues- brain injuries and CTE.

"For me, it kind of happened pretty existentially. I started thinking 'What do I want the end of life to be like?' And for me, I want to be surrounded with love, I want to know that what I did was able to do something for others," Thomas said on Reiter Than You with Bill Reiter. "I've always been really fascinated with human behavior and I started to really look around me and see how people were having a lot of success in their careers. but they're really struggling internally. And I thought, 'Man, psychology would be something that could really be interesting to me.'

"As of this offseason, I started to spend some time around different psychologists and really started to learn about the field. They kept talking about brain injuries and my level of concern with brain injuries. And I said, 'Well it's not something that I think about too much. It's not something I'm really afraid of.' They kept looking at me kind of with wide eyes and I said, 'Well you guys must know a lot of stuff that I don't know.' As I started to look into it, I started to really see that there's a lot more information than I had previously had. I really wanted to step into that career because I felt like it kind of called me. It's just something that came about. It wasn't something I had thought about doing, but it kind of marries my first career with what I plan to do with my second career. I felt like I kind of have a responsibility to look at brain injuries if I'm already going to be in a field that's studying them."

Brain injuries are certainly a hot topic in football. More and more players are retiring at a young age due to concerns about CTE. Meanwhile, the league continues to implement new (and at times confusing) rules in an attempt to protect its players, much to the dismay of many of the league's defenders (along with some fans).

Despite stepping away from the field, Thomas is confident that the NFL's popularity will remain high over the next decade or so.

"I'm very optimistic about the game. It's America's favorite game right now, and I think it'll be that way in 10-15 years," Thomas said. "I think the game will look a little bit different. If you ask me, I would probably predict that the practice habits would change. I think you'll start to see more extended time outside of helmets, as opposed to training camp where you're going six days a week and you're constantly having those collisions."

Due to the growing concerns about brain injuries, many parents are deciding to keep their children from playing football. 

High school football participation is down 3.5 percent in the United States over the last five years, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Association of State High School Federations. In addition, states such as California are proposing laws that would bar children under 12-years-old from playing organized tackle football.

While brain injuries are certainly a serious matter, Thomas still believes in football and the impact it could have on one's life.

"Right now, I still have a lot to understand about brain injuries. But I wouldn't tell people not to play," the former Pro Bowler said Monday. "You have to make sure you educate whoever it is and whatever age they're playing, help them understand some of the risks that are involved with playing football. That's not just head injuries- that's ligament tears, that's the spine injuries you see . If they're too young to decide that for themselves, as a parent, make a decision that you feel you're best with, and either way is a good one.

"I think as we learn more about brain injuries, we're going to find better ways to help prevent them. I definitely want people to know that I strongly believe in football. It's changed my life, and it's a great sport to play as long as we're making sure we're doing all we can to protect the athletes out there on the field."