Detroit Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata wanted to make sure he did one thing before he decided to return for the 2017 season.
He got his brain checked.
The 33-year-old Ngata went to get cognitive and brain exams done at The Sports Neurology Clinic at the CORE Institute in Brighton, Michigan. He underwent a series of tests that spanned two weeks because he wanted to make sure his brain was still healthy before he chose to continue playing football.
It was an idea that his agent originally offered but one Ngata embraced after he thought about it more.
“With all the things that’s going on with the brain and stuff throughout the league, you definitely keep an eye on, you hear that stuff and you don’t want — me especially. I don’t want to have problems when I’m older,” Ngata said. “I want to be able to raise my kids and be able to play with them when they are older and still be able to beat them in wrestling matches and stuff when they are teenagers.”
Ngata said he had one diagnosed concussion during his 11-year career between Baltimore and Detroit. As part his most recent examination, Ngata said he had a brain scan, psychological tests and various assessments while he was working out and at rest to evaluate his levels of functionality. He said he found the testing and the results “pretty interesting.”
There is no reliable way to test for chronic traumatic encephalopathy — commonly known as CTE — before death, but that issue has continually been broached about players in the league over the past decade.
On Ngata’s own team, former Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy was vocal about the league’s handling of brain injuries and CTE, challenging the NFL last offseason about some of the doctors who advised the league. Another one of Ngata’s former teammates, Rashean Mathis, was also openly vocal about the league and the NFL Players Association’s handling of CTE and brain injuries, calling for improvements.
Knowledge about — and experience with — brain injuries was part of the reason Ngata changed the way he hits opposing players. In his younger years, Ngata has said, “I used my head a lot more,” but as he learned different techniques, he started to move away from that.
Ngata said the doctors told him everything they saw with his brain was “pretty good, or really good, actually.” Ngata himself said Thursday that his “brain is good to go, keep on hitting.” When he heard a healthy diagnosis, he made the decision to play for another season — something Ngata now says will be a year-to-year discussion with his wife and family.
Ngata wasn’t sure how common players going independently for brain testing is, but he made it sound as if he would like to push more players to get tested.
“I’ve talked to some of our PA guys here and trying to spread the word out more,” Ngata said. “The better we can get at getting some of these athletes to go out and get those brain checks, it’s safer and better for everyone.”