Current Chief and future doctor Laurent Duvernay-Tardif has weighed concussion risks

Chiefs guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif had his first concussion in the playoffs last season. He did some soul-searching in the offseason about playing football. Richard Messina for ESPN

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif was hit by an opponent in the side of the head during the Kansas City Chiefs' playoff game last January against the Houston Texans.

Duvernay-Tardif had never before been diagnosed with a concussion and didn’t suspect he’d ever had one that went undiagnosed. Initially, he was unsure whether he was injured and played a few more snaps. Then, he went to the Chiefs’ medical staff.

“I never lost consciousness," said Duvernay-Tardif, a starting guard. “It was more like, ‘OK, what’s happening here?’ I lost the urgency of the game. You look at the scoreboard [blankly]. You just don’t feel right. I didn’t black out or anything. I played two or three more plays and then I was like, ‘Uh-oh, something’s wrong.' I reported myself to the trainer. ... I was like, ‘Hey, I got a hit. I’m not sure exactly if I’m good to go back.' The trainer went to see [head trainer Rick Burkholder], Rick talked to the doctor, and two seconds later, I was walking in the tunnel and I was examined by our doctor and by the independent neurologist.

“That’s where they diagnosed me with a concussion."

Duvernay-Tardif is a medical student in the offseason at McGill University in Montreal. Part of his curriculum requires him to assist in the hospital emergency room, where he sees all manner of head trauma.

Despite those experiences, and now after having a concussion himself, he hasn’t changed his mind about playing football and exposing himself to the potential risk.

“Concussions are the biggest downside to football," he said. “The good news, I think, is the way we’re approaching concussions now compared to back in the days. It’s really different. The league has put a lot in place to try to minimize the exposure and the potential side effects of concussions.

“It’s part of my job to try to know more about it. I’m doing a lot of research about concussions and sports medicine and even associating myself with a companion out of Seattle that [is] creating a device to kind of sense the impact, the velocity, the shock, the force you need to potentially have a concussion. I’m doing a lot of research from my side, but I think the league is also taking that very seriously now."

After being diagnosed, Duvernay-Tardif went through the NFL’s concussion protocol. He was not cleared to play against the New England Patriots the following week. The Chiefs lost and their season ended. Duvernay-Tardif said he would have been available to play the following weekend.

He was impressed by the protocol and the attitude of the Chiefs’ medical staff and his teammates about his concussion.

“I had [the concussion], and I was very surprised by how strict everything was," he said. “I knew about the five-step protocol, but experiencing it with all the trainers and seeing how seriously they take that, I think that’s really good.

“When I had my concussion, I had guys on the team come up to me and were like, ‘Hey, I had one before. Take your time, don’t rush it.’ That tells me what is the mentality now compared to what it was previously."

In Houston, sitting alone in the locker room and without the piece of equipment that could have protected him from further injury -- the medical staff had taken his helmet away -- Duvernay-Tardif still wanted to go back in the game. It was only after the Chiefs’ season ended and the seriousness of the situation settled in that he got around to some soul-searching about his football future.

“It’s your responsibility as a player to take care of your health," he said. “It’s also your responsibility to ask yourself after you have an injury, ‘Is it still worth it for me to play?’ It’s a hard question, obviously. I had that conversation with my parents after my concussion. I was like, ‘Is it still worth it for me to play?’

“It was a no-brainer to me. It’s still worth it. Football is more than just a game. I enjoy it. It was my first concussion and I recovered pretty quickly. Putting that all into account, for me at that point, it’s worth it to play football, and I want to play football."