Calvin Johnson Interview: Former Detroit Lions Wide Receiver Speaks Out About Taking Painkillers On A Daily Basis, Concussions, And Player Safety

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson shocked the world when he announced that he would be retiring from the NFL back in March. After all, Calvin had just put up 88 catches for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns during the 2015 season. But at 30-years-old, Johnson decided to hang up his cleats and walk away from the game he loved during his prime.

To a lot of people, Calvin’s decision to end his career just didn’t make a lot of sense, but Johnson recently gave an interview with ESPN’s Michael Smith, which will air on Thursday night at 10 p.m. ET, that gives a little more insight into his decision.

Johnson told Smith that there’s a culture in the NFL for players to do whatever’s necessary to get on the field every Sunday, and that includes taking painkillers on a near daily basis.

“I guess my first half of my career before they really, you know, before they were like started looking over the whole industry, or the whole NFL, the doctors, the team doctors and trainers they were giving them out like candy, you know?”

“If you were hurting, then you could get ’em, you know. It was nothing. I mean, if you needed Vicodin, call out, ‘My ankle hurt,’ you know. ‘I need, I need it. I can’t, I can’t play without it,’ or something like that. It was simple. That’s how easy it was to get ’em, you know. So if you were dependent on ’em, they were readily available,” Johnson said.

With the dependence on painkillers and the injuries Calvin Johnson has dealt with throughout his career, he knew that he couldn’t do what was necessary to continue playing. Johnson underwent knee, ankle, and finger surgeries following the season.

“I know where my body’s at, know how it feels, you know,” he said. “I know how it felt to one, get it to go every day. And to be out there actually doing it every day, you know — the pain to do it. So I’m just like — and you can’t take Toradol and pain medicine every day, you know. You gotta give that stuff a rest, and that was one thing I wasn’t willing to do.”

During Calvin Johnson’s nine-year career, he made six Pro Bowls in nine seasons and led the league in receiving twice. Johnson will retire in second place in NFL history in receiving yards per game at 86.1, only behind Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones.

Despite his dominance on the football field, Calvin had plans for his post-football career of finishing his degree at Georgia Tech, and Johnson began to have serious concerns about the effect of concussions. After hearing stories of former football players and their struggles with concussions following their careers, Johnson decided the risks weren’t worth it any longer.

“Concussions happen,” Calvin said. “If not on every play, then they happen like every other, every third play, you know. With all the helmet contact, guys hitting the ground, heads hitting ground. It’s simply when your brain touches your skull from the movement or the inertia, man. It’s simple to get a concussion, you know. I don’t know how many I’ve had over my career, you know, but I’ve definitely had my fair share.”

Johnson doesn’t necessarily blame the league for putting players at risk, but Calvin did say that it’s the job of the doctors, who are team employees, to get players, like Johnson, back on the field.

“The team doctor, the team trainers, they work for the team. And I love ’em, you know,” Johnson said. “They’re some good people, you know. They want to see you do good. But at the same time, they work for the team, you know. They’re trying to do whatever they can to get you back on the field and make your team look good. So if it’s not gonna make the team look good, or if you’re not gonna be on the field, then they’re tryin’ to do whatever they can to make that happen.”

It’s scary to hear Johnson’s accounts of the behind-the-scenes culture of the NFL. As fans who love this game, we tend to focus on stats, production, and wins and don’t really think about what players like Calvin go through to play every Sunday. We’re more concerned with how many fantasy points Johnson can get us than whatever health issues he’s dealing with. Hopefully, Calvin Johnson’s interview will open the eyes of many.

[Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images]