Only 33, Brian Westbrook already suffers from short-term memory loss. He can't remember names, recall facts, or retain new material moments after he's told them. Westbrook can trace his health problems to at least a pair of concussions suffered during a shortened nine-year career.
That is why the former Eagle advised current Birds running back LeSean McCoy to take his time returning from a concussion last season.
McCoy missed four games but refused to sit out the final two games for further rest because he called himself a "competitor."
McCoy told Westbrook how he wanted to play only a couple of weeks after he was hurt. Westbrook asked him, "Can you run? Can you practice? Can you think without having a headache." McCoy answered no to all.
"He said, 'But we're losing and I've got to get back out there,' "
Westbrook, former Flyers captain Keith Primeau, five-time MLS all-star Taylor Twellman, former NFL linebacker Jim Nelson, former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt, and other head-safety advocates took part in a panel discussion of the "Concussion Conundrum" Friday at Villanova University. The program was part of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal Symposium.
A former all-pro running back, Westbrook fears more debilitating symptoms are in his future.
"Hopefully, they won't continue to progress," he said.
Westbrook might be winding down his NFL career had it not been for a series of punishing blows to his head. Instead, he's the latest in a list of former athletes who have become advocates for head-injury education and prevention, leaning on the mistakes of his career to help everyone from kids to professional athletes understand the dangers of trying to play through a concussion.
"I know we can't see the injury," Primeau said. "But trust me, people suffer."
Primeau said he had four documented concussions over his 15-year NHL career but had no idea how many others he may have suffered since he started playing as a 5-year-old. His first diagnosed concussion came in 1997, while playing for the Hartford Whalers. Team doctors simply ordered him to rest for one week - no physical contact, practice, or games.
After a lengthy layoff following his fourth concussion in 2005, the Flyers' training staff refused to clear him. When even the most mundane skating drills causing him headaches and fuzziness, Primeau retired at 34. He's since cofounded the website stopconcussions.com that aims to reduce, research, and manage concussions.
Primeau was carried off the ice on a stretcher after he was knocked out of a playoff game in 2000. He returned five nights later for the Flyers for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals and even got into a fight.
"I reflect on that as probably the beginning of the demise of me," he said.
Primeau said it took until only recently for his health to regain some sense of normalcy.
Westbrook said the Eagles were smart not to clear McCoy until he was ready. And he credited doctors and the training staff for the way they treated his head injuries. But the athletes wondered if independent physicians - without undue pressure or assumed favoritism by teams - are the best option.