Student athlete Rashad Blunt calls it quits after another concussion is disregarded.
It’s 4 a.m. on a Tuesday morning and Rashad Blunt lays in darkness with nothing but his thoughts. A darkness that he’s become quite acquainted with amid his onerous schedule, strenuous workouts and the pressures of being an academic scholar and a winning athlete. Blunt, a third-year Rutgers football player, has hung up his jersey for the remainder of his college career after suffering a concussion that changed his life. His familiarity with darkness while being on concussion protocol has given Blunt time to reflect and decide the future of his football and academic career.
At the age of four, Blunt began playing football in Jacksonville, Florida, where he grew up, following the footsteps of his older brother and his father. “My whole family played football, so it was kind of one of those things that was always around and I really enjoyed watching it, so of course I wanted to play,” he says. The 6-foot-1-inch, 195 pound wide receiver reminisces on how bad he was at the start because of his small size, but stood out because of his perseverance and his dedication to outwork everyone around him.
Blunt played the game every year of his schooling and had about 40 offers from Division 1 athletic programs by his senior year of high school. Football was a deciding factor in how Blunt ended up so far away from home, but it wasn’t the only factor. “I dropped it down to my top eight [schools], and then looked at real reasons to go to the school like what they offer academically, the coaches and resources around the campus like New York City are what ultimately attracted me here,” he says.
Throughout Blunt’s football career, Blunt says he never had a recorded concussion.“I am pretty sure I had concussions in high school,” he paused. “But I never did anything about it,” he says. Upon coming to Rutgers, Blunt suffered two.
In the spring of 2016, Blunt got his first concussion during a hitting drill in practice, a hit that he doesn’t even remember. “I blacked out for that second,” he says. Upon standing up, Blunt couldn’t walk in a straight line and was forced to sit out of practice for the next seven days. He went through concussion protocol, and says that Rutgers is very good at that, but felt like he came back too early after convincing himself he was better when he wasn’t. “The thing about concussions is, it’s nothing you can measure because it is all in your head. If I believe I’m okay, then I’ll really convince myself that I am okay even when I’m not,” he says.
As Blunt describes the concussion that stopped him from playing football, his demeanor changes as he tenses up describing the hit. “We both guessed left,” he says. In the middle of a practice play, Blunt and his teammate both trying to get past one another made the same exact move running into each other full force. “He hit the top of my head, but was much bigger than me, like a lineman, so I felt the hit all the way down to my toes, a jolt through my entire body. That’s when I knew it was over. I could feel it,” he says.
He didn’t return to football.
The next week and a half, Blunt missed classes and spent a lot of alone time in the dark due to light sensitivity post concussion. “It was very depressing because you’re alone most of the day,” Blunt explains. Although he slept to mid-afternoon, due to concussions making it hard to fall asleep at night, Blunt spent most of his days in the dark without his phone, TV, or outside interaction. “It’s a very dark time because you have to find out about yourself. I found out a lot about myself, even some things I didn’t want to,” he says.
Blunt was out of class for a week and a half. He found it easier to catch up with missed classwork since his schedule was clear of football after his concussion. “It was just one of those situations where I just had to work extra hard and long [on classwork] and had to take some breaks in the middle because my head would start hurting,” he explains.
He felt the symptoms of his concussion for approximately three months, and is still trying to get back to his full mental capacity. He still gets frequent headaches throughout the day but nowhere near as bad as they used to be. He is starting cognitive therapy in a few weeks.
“Although concussions have become more of a topic for discussion they are still pushed under the carpet. No one actually cares because you can’t see it,” Blunt explains. “We’re definitely going to have to alter the game at some point,” he says. Blunt knew exactly what he signed up for and all the consequences that come with the violent sport, but he also knew it was the best way out.
Coming from poverty in his hometown of Jacksonville, Blunt felt like he needed football in order to succeed and reach his other goals.“Honestly, there were plenty of times where I felt that I wanted to quit football, but for future purposes, football was the best way to put me in a position to be successful. I’m not going to get into a school this caliber and be able to pay for it without football,” he says.
With dreams of working for the U.S Department Of State one day, working in foreign relations, immigration and refugee programs, Blunt is one semester from earning his degree. Off the field, Blunt is a songwriting-fashion lover with hopes to one day having his own business, possibly a clothing line.
“I will always be thankful for football because it means alot to me, but it never meant everything to me. All those things [other hobbies] fill my void for football anyway,” Blunt cracks his hip and laughs.