On Wednesday Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reported that highly rated quarterback prospect Justin Fields (Ohio State) has epilepsy, which NFL teams became aware of during the pre-draft process. According to Rapoport, “it has not affected football & doctors believe he will outgrow it as his other family members have.”
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The news that one of the top prospects in the 2021 NFL Draft is managing epilepsy got the attention of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame guard Alan Faneca, who can identify with what Fields is going through. Faneca had his first epileptic seizure when he was a freshman in high school, but he didn’t let it stop him from starring at LSU and becoming one of the top offensive line prospects in the 1998 NFL Draft. Nor did it deter Pittsburgh from making him its first-round pick that year, selecting him at No. 26 overall, about as high as most teams will consider selecting an interior offensive lineman.
On Wednesday afternoon Faneca tweeted an inspirational message to Fields, saying, “If I can do it, so can @justnfields, and so can anyone else.”
Alan Faneca is a Super Bowl Winner and Pro Football Hall of Famer
Of course, Faneca, now 44, wasn’t merely a first-round pick. He played in the NFL for 13 seasons—with the Steelers, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals—and was named to the Pro Bowl nine times, honored as a first-teamer in six of those nine years. He was also responsible for the block that allowed running back Willie Parker to race 75 yards for a third-quarter touchdown in Super Bowl XL, propelling the Steelers to a 21-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
More notably, still, earlier this year he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he will be enshrined this summer.
Nor has Faneca ever shied away from discussing his condition.
“I have epilepsy, but it does not define me, it is only a small part of who I am.” That’s the message that has long headlined his Twitter page (@afan66), and he has appeared at many charity events and benefits that help to raise awareness about epilepsy, which is a neurological condition that affects the nervous system, which is characterized by seizures caused by disturbances in the electrical activity of the brain. According to the Epilepsy Foundation of America, the condition affects approximately 3.4 million Americans.
How Might Fields’ NFL Career Be Impacted?
According to Rapoport and Pelissero, Fields was diagnosed as a youth and “has seen his symptoms get shorter and less frequent over time, and he doesn’t have seizures as long as he takes his medicine, a source said.”
That seems to mirror Faneca’s experience, who in 2008 told NFL.com that his epilepsy was well-managed by medication. “I take six pills a day, even now,” he said. “As long as I’m on my medication, I’m fine.”
Moreover, Faneca isn’t the only player to have a successful NFL career while managing epilepsy. According to epsyhealth.com, the list includes former Tennessee Titans/Baltimore Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle (1998-2008), as well as former Atlanta Falcons running back Jason Snelling (2007-13).
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