By Ben Church and Chris Wallace, CNN
In an interview on CNN and HBOMax’s ‘Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace,’ the 74-year-old recalls being knocked out a number of times in his career but argues that it was all part and parcel of the game he loves.
“It’s dangerous. It is a tough sport. You better be pretty courageous and fear no evil,” the four-time Super Bowl champion told host Chris Wallace.
“It was something we grew up with. It’s something that I love. Being hurt or getting hits is all part of it, and we accept it.”
The NFL has been under renewed scrutiny over the issue of concussions this season, beginning on September 25 when Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovalia was injured during play but was allowed to return to the field.
On Friday, the league said it saw an 18% increase in concussions during the 2022 regular season.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills noted that the league saw 149 concussions this season, which is up from 126 last season, according to injury data released earlier on Friday.
One of the biggest concerns about repeated blows to the head and concussions is their association with a deadly brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The NFL’s current concussion protocol is triggered if a player receives a blow to the head and exhibits or reports symptoms or signs suggestive of a concussion or stinger — a nerve pinch injury — or the team athletic trainer, booth ATC spotter, team physician, game official, coach, teammate, sideline Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant or booth UNC initiates the protocol.
The player is removed to the sideline or stabilized on the field and required to undergo testing.
“It’s hard for a lot of people to accept it,” Bradshaw said, adding he’s aware of the dangers associated.
“Now, I don’t accept CTE results. I don’t accept the brain damage that we’re finding. I don’t accept the fact that so many of these players can’t be diagnosed with CTE until it’s too late.”
Bradshaw was a central part of the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty in the 1970s, which saw the franchise win four Super Bowls in a six-year span, and he was twice named the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player while also earning the league MVP award for the 1978 season.
He is widely remembered for his role in the “Immaculate Reception” — an unbelievable winning play from a 1972 AFC divisional playoff game in which Steelers running back Franco Harris plucked a deflected pass and ran for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Bradshaw was the quarterback who started off the play and, despite admitting it was “not one of my best throws,” the NFL Network in 2019 named it the top play in the 100 years of the league.
The former quarterback knows he took a lot of blows throughout his career. While playing, he says he visited a clinic to get tested and found out he’d had “quite a few concussions” due to the scarring on his brain.
Despite that, the iconic quarterback doesn’t think the sport is too dangerous to play.
“I played it, so I obviously don’t think it’s too rough,” he said. “I loved it. I enjoyed it. I was proud of myself, as a player, as a quarterback, as most quarterbacks I would think are.
“We have to stand in there and trust a bunch of people around us or else we just get slammed, but we’re always going to be dealing with this.
“I’m kinda a gladiator. I enjoyed being in that arena. It’s a scary arena to be in.”
Bradshaw retired following the 1983 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989.
After his retirement, he explored the world of sports media and has been a core member of FOX’s NFL coverage.
The new role was a much needed change from the intensity and pressure of being one of the best NFL players on the planet.
Bradshaw has been open about the mental health struggles he experienced while playing on the biggest stage and has been heartened by the response he’s received after talking about his struggles.
“I’m not good at winning because winning means I gotta do it again,” he said.
“And I know how hard it was to get to win that one time. The pressure was tearing me apart.”
He added: “I couldn’t enjoy it. I don’t know why. I did not enjoy playing football because I could not accept it being so serious. It was always to me just a game and I couldn’t accept it being so serious.
“I couldn’t understand people being so cruel and mean with their words and I didn’t enjoy that at all. That’s why I like my life better outside of football because I get to entertain and make people laugh and have a good time.”
Battle with cancer
In December, Bradshaw revealed he also battled with his physical health last year — being diagnosed with both bladder and skin cancer.
He told Wallace that he’s still going for follow up appointments for the bladder cancer but, as a man of faith, he says he wasn’t scared after being diagnosed.
“When I first got the cancers, it didn’t bother me,” he said.
“I just felt like, if I died from this stuff, I’m going to heaven, and if I don’t, then I get to sit here on Earth and do football and be with my family, my gorgeous wife.
“The thing that’s most unsettling is waiting for the report after you do all the tests. Then you get the phone call that says you’re cancer free. So that’s the most stressful time.”
Super Bowl predictions
Bradshaw, who spoke about his love for music and acting in a wide ranging interview with Wallace, also gave his prediction for the upcoming Super Bowl on February 12.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles will battle it out at the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and Bradshaw says picking a winner is hard.
Both quarterbacks, he says, have the quality needed to inspire their teams to victory but admits his prediction is somewhat influenced by his wife, Tammy.
“I did pick the Chiefs and I did pick the Eagles both to go to the Super Bowl,” he said. “So I got a good thing going there.
“But the more I study, the more stuff I gather, the more confused my brain gets.
“But I am married to a Chiefs fan. So if the Chiefs don’t win, no biggie. At least, my wife’s happy with me.”
The full interview on “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace” is streaming now on HBOMax and airs Sunday night at 7 p.m. ET on CNN.
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CNN’s Jacob Lev contributed reporting.