For Pete's Sake

Former Chief Husain Abdullah opens up about his decision to retire in essay

Husain Abdullah (right) watched his son Jalaal, who caught a pass from his father during training camp in 2014.
Husain Abdullah (right) watched his son Jalaal, who caught a pass from his father during training camp in 2014. deulitt@kcstar.com

Former Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah surprised many people when he retired last month at the age of 30.

Abdullah explained his decision in an Instagram post. On Monday, Abdullah wrote a lengthy essay on The Players Tribune that shed a lot more light on his decision. You can read the entire piece here.

Here are some highlights of the essay. Abdullah started by recounting a story of playing basketball with his kids at his house in 2011, after he’d suffered a fourth concussion.

Twenty-five years old, a four-year NFL veteran, a professional athlete, and I couldn’t keep up with a couple of preschoolers. The room just started spinning.

I had to go upstairs and lie in bed.

I had to close my eyes.

I had to make it stop.

Abdullah was a free agent when former Chargers star Junior Seau committed suicide. Abdullah, a Muslim, decided to perform his Hajj. Abdullah, his wife, Zhavon, his brothers Hamza and Abbas, and their parents made their pilgrimage to Makkah in 2012.

That refreshed Abdullah, who wrote that he spent the 2012 season working to get back to the NFL. With the history of concussions, he changed his tackling. Here is what Abdullah wrote:

I needed to change the way I played the game to protect myself as much as I could. For me, it wasn’t about the big hits anymore. I got back to the basics: My job was to tackle the ballcarrier. Get him on the ground. I had to knock the ball down, intercept the ball and try to strip it.

I took the big hit out of my game. I started tackling with my head off to the side instead of trying to run through the ballcarrier. I could perform everything that was asked of me, without the big collisions.

In February 2013 I signed with the Kansas City Chiefs, a first-class organization. And all the work I had done — mentally, physically and spiritually — paid off. I had a resurgence as part of a team that was building toward being championship caliber.

I played a full 2 1/2 years without a concussion or any kind of head injury. I didn’t get dinged, I didn’t “get my bell rung” … nothing. It was mostly because of the adjustments I had made to my game.

Still, Abdullah suffered his fifth concussion on a fluke play during a win over the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead Stadium on Nov. 29.

Abdullah wrote about the wonderful treatment from the Chiefs:

They went above and beyond to try to diagnose the concussion, and to try and rehabilitate me. There was a protocol — different steps you had to complete and benchmarks you had to reach before you could step back on the field. It wasn’t just, When you’re good, you’re good.

Still, he thought of Seau and Dave Duerson, another former NFL star who committed suicide after retiring.

Abdullah writes that he didn’t retire because he was afraid. Rather it was “because I had come to terms with my own medical history.”

In a few short months, players will start reporting for OTAs and training camp. Preseason games will kick off and then stadiums will fill up for regular-season games. And when they do, I won’t be on the field. I don’t think it will really hit me that I’m done with the game until then.

But when it does hit me, I know I’ll look into my new daughter’s eyes — and at my other three children and my wife — and know that I made the right decision.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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