Terrell Davis Talks CTE, Anthem Protests And Getting Stuck On A Deserted Island

DENVER ― If Terrell Davis were stuck on a deserted island with an NFL quarterback and the two of them had to hatch an escape plan, he’d want it to be Russell Wilson.

But first he’d need to know a little more about how he ended up stranded on a deserted island with an elite QB in the first place:

“Why would I be escaping a deserted island with a quarterback?”

“What’s my escape route? We flying off? We on a boat?”

In the end, the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, two-time Super Bowl champion, three-time Pro Bowler and historically great former Broncos running back said he’d have to go with Wilson because “he’s mobile” and “there’s all sorts of situations he’s able to get himself out of.”

Davis, 45, talked about that, player safety, anthem protests and more in an interview with HuffPost on Thursday morning. Davis was speaking to reporters as part of a promotional push for Verizon’s new rewards program, VerizonUp. (Note: Verizon owns HuffPost’s parent company, Oath.) The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and transcribed below:

HuffPost: Let’s say tomorrow you wake up, and you’ve been named NFL commissioner, with the absolute power to change anything in the league. What’s the first thing you’d do? 

Davis: I would go back to giving teams more time to practice. More time for padded practices, more time to develop players. They’ve really taken it away from the players ― and a lot of that has been done by the NFL Players Association ― but it’s kind of cheating the players in their development.

Training camp is important. The way we’re preparing players coming out of college. Especially the offensive linemen and running backs, in trying to get the running game going, you need actual practice in pads. It’s hard to really get that running game going when you’re just doing simulated drills or you’re doing walk-throughs. I know what it meant to me to get those reps in, and I’m sure it would benefit a lot of other players.

What’s stopping NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or the NFLPA from doing that?

It all comes back to players’ safety, and I think the one thing that hurts it is you have some coaches who abuse it, and that’s why they installed it initially. You had some coaches who were practicing super long ― two practices a day with pads on. I’m not sure how you could bring that back and try to make sure that it’s not being abused and that it’s being used properly. 

If you could time travel, what advice would you give yourself before your first preseason game in 1995, when you were pretty sure you wouldn’t make the team?

Just be ready for the opportunity. When it comes, it’s going to come. I can’t tell you when, but when it comes ― be ready.

I know you fought through migraines in the past. Are you worried about chronic traumatic encephelopathy at all and how CTE might affect you in the future?

Yeah, I think you certainly have to be. This sport is relatively new, and we’re just now starting to see players getting older, getting their brains examined and having signs of CTE, so why would I think that I’m in the clear?

There are things that have happened in my life where I might forget something, and, of course, my first thought is, “Is this from playing football or am I getting older?” And I’m not sure. I have a wife and three kids, and you’re always concerned about your health. Are you going to be around when they get older? Yeah, I think about it.

I do know that [when I played] 18 years ago, I thought I wouldn’t let my kids play football. I’ve changed my tune for a number of reasons: One, the sport has changed and the awareness is there. If you get dinged and you see stars, you now have to go through the proper protocol, so I like what they’re doing with that. Going back to the grassroots, people growing up playing football are taught differently. The equipment is better. Techniques are being taught differently in terms of where your head should be placed. They don’t hit as much on all levels. Everything they’ve done to decrease the chances of head collisions I’ve been happy with. 

Both of my sons play flag football, and they want to play tackle. And when it’s time to play tackle, I’m going to let them play.

What would you tell NFL players who are concerned about CTE and are looking at their future, thinking of leaving the league early?

The first thing to do is look at what their history is. If they have a history of concussions, then I can’t tell anybody to continue to play. It’s really an individual decision. If you don’t have a history of it and you haven’t had any concussions or signs of head trauma, I would tell them the game is safe. And it’s getting safer every day. I don’t tell players whether they should play or not, it’s just up to them.

If you were stuck on a deserted island with a QB who’s currently in the league and you had to escape, who would it be, and why?

[Laughing] Why would I be escaping a deserted island with a quarterback? Depends on how we’re getting off the island. What’s my escape route? We flying off? We on a boat?

Give me Russell Wilson, man. I’m a Russell fan. He’s got all the attacks. He’s mobile, he’s able to deal, there’s all sorts of situations he’s able to get himself out of. He’s a one-man showdown up there in Seattle. I like Russell.

You came up with your famous touchdown celebration, the Mile High saluteas a sign of respect for servicemen and women. Is there any advice you’d give players who are kneeling during the anthem in protest of racial inequality?

No. Those players weren’t kneeling because they don’t like the military. I stand. I also understand people who don’t want to stand for the anthem and why they’re doing it: It’s not about our military, it’s not about them not liking America. They’re just bringing attention to an issue in the communities that they come from. And I’m all for that.

This is a country where we’re taught to fight for things we believe in and speak for people who don’t have a voice. I’ve spoken to a number of servicemen and women who have shared that they don’t mind ― that that’s what they fought for, for us to have that platform and to have the right to do that. So long as it’s a peaceful assembly in protest, they were all for that. 

I would say, too, that the first time people were protesting it brought awareness to that. Now, the second thing is, what’s the plan after that? If you’re still kneeling and there’s no plan, then you’re just kneeling to be kneeling. If there’s not a plan behind it after the first couple of times, then that’s probably not the best course of action. 

I didn’t have an issue with it, because I understood why the players were kneeling.

Is it foolish to try to keep politics out of sports?

I don’t think you can. I understand the NFL doesn’t want to deal with that. Former Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan had some rules with our locker room: Two things we don’t talk about, religion and politics. And I understand, because those issues get heated.

But it’s woven into our culture now that when we do something, people [insert politics]. It’s part of where we are now. I’m not saying it’s foolish to try and keep it out, I think it’s almost impossible to keep it out. 

Are you surprised Colin Kaepernick went unsigned?

No. I’m not surprised. In this league, they don’t need everybody. They want you, but they don’t need you. Obviously the issues that were happening with him, those owners weren’t willing to take that risk. And then, not really knowing if he’s going to be a good quarterback or not. He’s better than some QBs in this league, but is it worth the risk for them? I’m not shocked he wasn’t signed.

If you hadn’t ended up in football, what do you think you would have ended up doing?

Oh, my goodness. I don’t know. I don’t look at life like that. I know my first move, if I’d been cut in training camp, would have been to go back to Georgia and parlay my relationships at Georgia with alumni and maybe work in Atlanta somewhere. Maybe that would’ve been my first move, but other than that, I have no idea what my life would’ve turned out to be.

Are you concerned at all with the drop in NFL TV viewership?

I’m not. Maybe there’s a few reasons why that happened. NFL viewership has gone up every year, and at some point it corrects. And it may have plateaued this year, may have even shrunk a little bit, but I think that’s OK. It’s such a big industry, and the fan base the NFL has is tremendous.

Now ― next year, if it happens again, I think the league be saying, “OK, what’s going on now?” But I think it’s going to go up again this year. 

What is the future of Thursday Night Football? It seems like it’s hated by players and fans. Do you see it going away?

I don’t see it going away anytime soon. There’s too much money the league is making on Thursday Night Football, and I know some of the players hate it, but… There’s not enough groundswell and enough people pushing back against Thursday Night Football for it to just go away. I don’t see that happening. 

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