CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After playing in the NFL for 16 seasons, former Panther Eugene Robinson has wonderful memories to last a lifetime. But the game also took a toll on his body; he suffered at least three concussions.
"I got hit so hard, I didn't even know I was on the ground, 'til I was getting up off the ground," Robinson said.
Robinson's been diagnosed with memory loss and chronic knee pain. The struggles haven't kept him from enjoying life post-NFL. He co-hosts Charlotte Today on WCNC, serves as a radio analyst for the Panthers, and coaches high school football.
"I still get to go enjoy those things and feel vibrant, even with the memory loss I know I have."
Still, Robinson wanted to give back to the sport that he loves. He joined the Football Health Study at Harvard University. With about 3,000 participants enrolled, it the largest study of former living players. It’s funded by the NFL Players Association.
The study recently unveiled a new app called TeamStudy. It allows players like Robinson to log onto the program on their smart phones and take a series of cognitive, written and physical tests. It takes about 20 minutes a week. The data is then collected by researchers at Harvard. The goal is to assess the long and short term risks of playing football.
"Do the risks outweigh the potential benefits? What are those risks? And what could be done to prevent those risks," said Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, principal investigator for the TeamStudy app.
Pascual-Leone encourages the general public to download the app and participate in the study to serve as part of the control group, allowing scientists to compare the data of football players to that of the regular population.
Robinson says the NFL has made notable strides in safety since he retired in 2000. He says the Harvard study takes that work a step further.
"Let's move the National Football League, the game that we love, let's move it forward. Let's make it safer," Robinson said.
Robinson believes research like the kind that's happening at Harvard gives him more confidence than ever about the sport he loves. And despite growing concerns, he thinks parents should allow children to play the sport.
"Moms, yeah, you need to let your kids play football."