Every NFL player knows the risks they take when they step on a football field. They know their body will eventually break down, and later in life they will be in pain. They rarely express any fear of their fate, or the future agony that comes with it.
Except when the body part in question is their brain.
"If you tell me I've got to get a hip replacement in 10 years, alright, fine, I'll deal with that in 10 years," Giants receiver Golden Tate said on Wednesday. "But if you tell me, 'Hey, there's a chance you might not be able to remember a lot of your career, or your childhood, or your children's childhood? That's scary, man. It gives me chills."
That's why the players in the Giants locker room, and people throughout the Giants organization, are so concerned right now about receiver Sterling Shepard. He's already suffered two concussions this season, and just when he was set to return to action after a three-week absence, he started feeling concussion symptoms again.
On Wednesday, the Giants sent the 26-year-old to Pittsburgh to be examined by a concussion specialist. Meanwhile, according to multiple team sources, the Giants were seriously considering placing him on season-ending injured reserve.
And several Giants teammates told SNY they are even concerned about whether Shepard will be able, or even willing, to resume his NFL career.
He's likely a long way from that decision, though. And even the decision to place him on IR might not come for a while, since the Giants have their bye week following their game on Sunday against the Jets. These are big and important decisions that don't need to be rushed.
"This is a serious injury, and in my mind, it requires a serious response," Giants coach Pat Shurmur said on Tuesday. "I think we have to use good judgement and we need to be very deliberate about guys coming back from injuries such as this. At some point, we just have to use our gut."
Shepard's teammates believe his gut is telling him to try to come back this season, even though the Giants have little left to play for at 2-7.
"Selfishly, we all want him out there, because we're a better team with him out there," Tate said. "But as a family man with kids, I think it's way bigger than football. You've got to kind of be selfish when it comes to your head, neck and brain, I believe."
Even if Shepard wants to come back, though, it's possible that either the doctors or the Giants simply won't let him. Shepard suffered a concussion in the season opener in Dallas, and missed the Week 2 game against the Buffalo Bills. He returned in Week 3, but suffered his second concussion in Week 5 against the Vikings.
After missing the next three games, he was cleared from the concussion protocol last Friday, seemingly putting him on track to play against the Cowboys on Monday night. But on Saturday night he told the Giants he wasn't feeling well, and when he was still ill the next morning he was put back in the concussion protocol and missed his fourth straight game.
Now he's simply out indefinitely. And at this point, everyone seems to agree that the safest course of action for Shepard is to take his time - no matter how much time he needs.
"You can kind of wing an ankle or other injuries, but when it comes to your brain, you only have one of those," Tate said. "And the picture outside of football is way more important, I think. Me being married and having a family, that's kind of the most important thing in my life and it's more important for me to remember my child's childhood than to force myself to play right here and now.
"So, we want him to understand that we support him, we're praying for him, and we want him to make sure that he's right."