CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Merril Hoge believes the sport of football, especially with the popularity of the National Football League, is being targeted when it comes to brain injuries. Yet, he said, there are plenty of places where brain injuries can occur.
"I had a mom scared, saying she didn't want her son to play football," said Hoge, an eight-year NFL veteran and former running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears who is now an ESPN analyst. "All she heard was that if he had a concussion, he was going to die. She wanted to protect her son. They went home, he gets on his bike and he takes off without a helmet."
Hoge hoped that proactive steps in youth sports - and speaking engagements like Tuesday night's at the University of Charleston - would help empower and educate parents about head trauma in football and other areas of life.
Hoge was at Geary Auditorium in UC's Riggleman Hall on Tuesday night for "Under Review: The Future of Football and the NFL," part of the university's Speaker Series. Current ESPN analyst and former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins offensive lineman Mark Schlereth was scheduled to join the discussion, but the area's inclement weather kept his flight from arriving.
Dozens did brave the snow Tuesday night to hear Hoge discuss with UC president Ed Welch his views on where the sport of football is headed. The topic of brain injuries in football was among the first discussed. As guests arrived into the auditorium, the PBS documentary "League of Denial: The NFL's Concussion Crisis" was playing in the corner. Hoge's own career was cut short by concussions, which he detailed Tuesday night.
Hoge's career ended with the Bears after his second concussion in a five-week span sent him into cardiac arrest in the Bears' locker room. Afterward, he said, he had to learn how to read again and battled through depression as the fog from those concussions took nearly two years to dissipate.
"You guys ever watch 'Barney?'" he asked. "I could sit and watch 'Barney' for hours with my daughter and I was completely amused by that. That kind of tells you the severity."
He believes, though, that if he was still with the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, he would not have dealt with that rehabilitation process. The Steelers, he said, were at the forefront of cognitive testing for concussions and that testing wasn't applied to him in Chicago.