"If studies come out and show that playing football is detrimental to your health for the long term, even for the short term, I think that's up to the players then to make the decision about whether they're going to play or not play," Largent said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Peter Cook for "Capitol Gains," which airs Feb. 2.
"They should be armed with all of the latest statistics and information and research," added Largent, who now represents the nation's wireless industry as president of CTIA-The Wireless Association. "We don't need the government telling people what they can and can't do."
Largent, 58, played 14 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and at the time of his retirement in 1990 was the leading receiver in NFL history with 819 catches for 13,089 yards and 100 touchdowns. He was a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995 and represented his home state of Oklahoma in Congress from 1994 through 2002.
Largent's comments on violence and injuries in football came days after President Barack Obama said he would "think long and hard" if he had a son before letting him participate in the sport. Obama, the father of two daughters, said in an interview with The New Republic magazine that college football in particular should consider rules changes because of emerging evidence that the repetitive head blows suffered by players lead to long-term health consequences.
"The important point is that he doesn't have a son, but it's just another indication of the issue that's at hand for the NFL, and it's front and center," Largent said. "The commissioner's very well aware of what's going on and he's alerting people and getting the experts to give him the information as soon as they have it."
More than 3,000 former players have sued the NFL for damages resulting from head injuries, accusing the league of negligence and failing to inform players of the link between repeated concussions and brain injuries. Brain-tissue samples recently showed that Junior Seau, a 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker who shot himself to death in May, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive brain disease.
Evidence of similar traumatic brain injury has been found in other ex-NFL players who committed suicide.
Largent said he had multiple concussions throughout college and his NFL career, including one during his next-to-last season in which he was knocked unconscious before hitting the ground.
Largent said he's "really curious" about the impact of concussions on NFL players and is currently participating in a study at the University of North Carolina. Largent also suffered a stroke at the age of 50 that he said the experts he's consulted believe isn't connected to his NFL career.
Largent considers himself fortunate to still be in relatively good health, running five or six miles every other day and playing tennis two to three times a week. Largent also said he remains the NFL's "biggest fan," despite lingering concerns about the head injuries he suffered as a player.
"The more studies that come out that talk about concussions and so forth, it makes me wonder," Largent said. "I wonder, more importantly than the stroke, the impact that concussions have had on my life, particularly as I get older."
With assistance from Mike Dorning in Washington.
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