Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott is known as one of the toughest players in NFL history. That reputation was built on plenty of hard hits, but also his decision to amputate part of his pinkie finger. He smashed his finger against the Dallas Cowboys, and after the season decided to have part of the finger amputated. He faced reconstructive surgery and a sizable rehab, so he decided to go with the amputation to reduce the recovery time.
Given his fairly unique experience, it is no surprise Lott has been interviewed on the subject of Jason Pierre Paul and his fireworks injury. JPP had an index finger amputated after the injury and begins the rehab process back from it. Lott had plenty to say about the physical, psychological and emotional aspects of this kind of injury.
On how many people have called him asking about JPP's finger:
A lot [laugh].
On what he thought about JPP's finger:
First thing I thought about was, he's gonna be in a lot of pain. And the reason why, you think about the pain is that most people when they think of injuries, there's pain and then there's pain. Anytime you get hurt around the foot or the hand, the pain is much different. And so for him, the pain of going through the amputation, the pain of having it numb, and then having it become un-numb, and then the fact that when you go through all that, there's just so much pain. And then the pain of learning how to play with it, and learning how to not play with it. And learning the things that you can do, and the pains of struggling with it. And so, all those pains to me are the things that make it really challenging.
And I just go back to, when it happened to me, going to the doctor, the first time I had to go to the doctor, he looked at the finger and he said, "OK, we're going to numb it so we can actually see what's broken, what do we have to take off, what do we have to do, the things that we're going to deal with. And I said, "OK, fantastic." He numbed it, I couldn't feel it, but when it became un-numb, the sensation of going through that was one of the craziest things I've ever felt. Imagine the electricity of your hand being turned off. Imagine it being turned back on. Imagine the sensors, imagine the feel and the touch. It's the most, to me, it was one of the most craziest things I've ever gone through because when you numb your ankle, or if you numb your shoulder, or if you numb your knee, you don't have this sensation. And this is the one area where the nerve endings on your fingers are, it's amazing.
It's really hard to explain, but I've met people and I've talked to people, and what's fascinating is that if somebody cut their toe off, or they cut their finger off with a lawnmower, with a hatchet, you'll see them and they'll come up to you and go, "Oh yea, you're the guy". The first thing you talk about is the pain, and they go, "Yea, that pain is amazing." So you have that in common and for him, that's the one thing I think he's going to struggle with. And the other thing for him is that he'll be able to play with it, and he'll learn how to deal with it, but the moment of not seeing it, the moment of looking at your hand, and looking down and realizing you have that phantom, where you see your finger but you don't see it. There's a lot of things emotionally that he'll have to deal with, and he'll have to learn how to understand that it's not there, and understand that there are things that will play tricks on his mind.
On his own decision to cut off the tip of his pinkie:
For me, it was a pretty simple story. We played the Giants and it was the last game of the year. Before that game, I'd had the finger smashed against the Cowboys, we lost that game. Go in to see the doctor, that's the third time I had to see him, the third time he had to numb my finger, the third time that I wanted to kill him. And so after going through that process, he says, "Look, I think we have to amputate the finger, here's why." I said, "Really?" He says, "Yes, really. These are the problems that you're going to have, and I don't think that the bone is going to be able to heal itself. I don't think that you're going to be able to use that part of your finger again." And so I said, "OK, fantastic. If you think that's the right thing." I go from that to then going through the process of saying, "Now what?" He says, "It's going to be three months before you can actually see it. You go three months without seeing your finger. Through those three months without seeing it, you're moving it, your sensations are coming back. All of this is happening." And then they take it off and in my case when they took it off, you look at your hand and go, "Wait a minute, it's gone." And all the sensations of knowing it was still there, it's still a part of your spirit, it's a part of who you are.
So all of those things, I would say it last over a six month period. And then from that period, I was able to, you know you get back on the field and you're able to play. But yea, emotionally there are going to be some highs and lows for him. And I'll never forget this, the doctor was like, when he took off the bandage off my hand, he was like, "It's gonna look great, it's gonna be exciting." And I said, "Really?" And he finally gets it off, and asks, "How does it look?" And I'll never forget, I was sitting there going, "Man, that looks like E.T.'s head." So, these things that you go through, for him, especially in his case, it happened to me playing on the field. Him, it happened to him, can you imagine, you don't think that that's the last thing you're going to be, that's the last thing you're thinking about, that that's going to happen to you. And so, I feel bad for him because of how it happened, and the way it happened. It's an unfortunate injury, and it's a lesson for a lot of kids and a lot of folks out there that things can be dangerous, especially when you know that you're going to light something that could blow up.
On if he's reached out to JPP:
No. No, no, no. Look, I've had other athletes who have gone through something like this, they've reached out and I've told them what I would tell him, and that is, "It will get better, you will be able to function. Don't lose your spirit. Understand that that's not going to impede your greatness. And if anything it's going to enhance your greatness, and you'll find yourself competing at a high level. And in his case, he will be another one who will find himself realizing that with 9.5 or 9 fingers, that he can still go to the Pro Bowl.