Concussions in the NFL
Crack open a cold beer, sits on your cloud-like sofa, and direct your television to the most intriguing football game. Nothing is better than Sunday football and all the perks that tag along with it. As avid fans of our favorite team, we view the players as celebrities. However, what our society forgets to realize through all the hype and excitement of the three hour gridiron battle, is the strain the game of football puts on the bodies of the athletes we idolize. Specifically the trauma to the brain and the head. Recently, concussions have become a more magnified issue in the NFL, but a majority of football maniacs like myself, don’t fully comprehend the extent of a concussion and the long lasting ramifications that come with the concussion process. All we see is the player who felt a bit drowsy after the previous play, standing on the sideline with the team doctor. Suffering a concussion is a lot more serious than many average football crazed fans believe. It is a lifelong injury that will and has caught up to some of the gridiron greats.
Humans are susceptible to suffering a concussion every single day. Much of the society is not aware of that. There are many concussion “myths” that as a society, we may not be aware of. In Jeanie Shulkin’s article “What You Don’t Know About Concussions” posted on the Huffington Post website, she offers insight to the everyday concussion suffered by not just players but by the general population. This article will provide a broader look at a concussion before analyzing the hard hitting game of football and the toll it takes on the players.
Shulkin offers a real life personal experience. Many concussions can come from the softest head impacts. Shulkin explains how her concussion suffered from the blow of volleyball, much softer than the collision of two full force colliding football players’ helmets, really affected her everyday lifestyle. Her recovery from a blow of such a soft object included months reoccurring symptoms. It took a month away from college featuring blurred vision, headaches, dizziness, and disorientation to move her onto her next month and stage of the concussion. Many NFL players are back on the field after a week, much less a month. Not all concussions are the same, but it is clear that even the most non violent, blind side hit, can cause someone months of pain even with the proper treatment. Shulkin’s second month included a return to college however the symptoms were still present. She states she was forced to make “several lifestyle changes”. She was forced to leave her love of the game in the form of tennis and squash, both she played competitively at the national level. It did not take much to set her back. Shulkin states that “even a minor brush to my head could set back my recovery immensely”. That statement runs deep in the argument of NFL concussions. Players are making head contact almost every play. How can we be so sure that the concussion protocol the NFL enforces is capable of giving the player the best results and least time spent off of the field? Surely, the facts and experiences suffered by not just professional football players, but also everyday concussion suffering individuals, do not prove the NFL Concussion Policy effective. We can see through an example that it can take up to months for someone to recover from a concussion whether it is suffered on the football field or out in the real world.
It seems that the only NFL affiliated people taking the concussion issue serious are the ones who are retired. However this is untrue. There have been multiple instances when young and bright future NFL players have taken a step away from the game. Anthony Davis, who played for the 49ers and after suffering a concussion in Week 11 of the season he, explained how scary it was to live with an injury that does not allow the brain to work correctly. He took his retirement early at age 25. Not many players will address the concussion issue as a serious because walking away from millions of dollars and a successful career is not the most attractive option to these young adults. However, the decision that Anthony Davis and others who have decided to take a different career path after suffering a concussion, may add years onto his life and serve as a very healthy decision. In the article “Concussions in the NFL: Are players beginning to value their brains more than the game?” author Dani Bostick includes the story of Anthony Davis and former Steelers player and current ESPN analyst, Merril Hoge’s perspective. Hoge, like Davis, took an early leave after the 1994 season. Bostick takes a portion of a 2009 Arrowhead Pride article in which Hoge explains his experience. Hoge explains how his heart stopped when he was brought back to the training room after suffering his concussion. Trainers were forced to resuscitate Hoge. He then explains the hardship of being forced to recover in an ICU and “was basically trapped in my home for six weeks”, says Hoge. He was forced to learn how to read again and Hoge says it took two years for him to recover the cognitive issues he lost from the injury.
Merril Hoge’s story may be one of the most extreme cases; however it is still very relevant to the process of ensuring that our society is educated with the process and consequences of a concussion. A man who had a great career ahead of him with millions of dollars to follow was cut short because of a concussion. He is very successful in his current career as an ESPN analyst, but this does not take away from all that he put into the game of football and the very little he got out. Years of recovery, with no guarantee of a full recovery, does not seem worth it. Even if it is worth it, the players and the fans need to be educated on how serious a concussion really is.
Football has become more than a Sunday spent on the couch with your friends. It has become a smart phone app, a 10-12 man league filled with trades, and draft days. Fantasy football. Fantasy football has become a huge part of the everyday football maniac’s life. It is a form of gambling by drafting a team consisted of players from different teams and cheering them on to produce stats that turn into points for your team. Just like most games, the team with the most points wins. Obviously the best players will be drafted onto teams by these fantasy owners. However, we tend to forget as fantasy football owners and general managers, that the players we draft are human beings. They go through life with a little more to it than the general population, but nonetheless they also suffer injuries. Some injuries that require a simple tape up on the sideline or some injuries that require season ending surgery and/or evaluation. In a Bleacher Report article titled “The NFL Isn’t Fantasy: Those Injuries Are the Real Thing”, author Mike Freeman offers his perspective on how the gambling fantasy football maniacs are not aware of the extent of injuries. According to Freeman, after two weeks of this year’s NFL season (2015), 15 percent of the NFL suffered injuries. Through two weeks that is a very high number. Last year the NFL suffered more than 1,300 injuries total. “There are many brave men and women who do incredibly dangerous jobs and aren’t paid a fraction of what NFL players get. But that doesn’t change that number. There are few jobs where 15 percent of the workforce gets hurt-many of the injuries being serious ones-after just two weeks.” (Freeman). This statement does not go through the minds of fantasy owners. They only see the 13-20 guys listed on their roster and if they are injured it causes havoc of trying to figure out the best replacement to win the week. Gambling is really creating a distance from the sport and the viewers. Players are categorized as probable, questionable, or out if they are listed on the injury report for that week. In the fantasy football world a player listed as probable has a very high chance to play that week. And that’s all the fantasy football world sees. They do not see that he is suffering a lingering injury, which possibly could be a concussion. They do not see the hard work that player has put in all week to try and make it possible to be on the field with his team. They only see the money they put into the league either being sat out for a game or toughing it out for the team. Freeman ends his article with a very bold and accurate statement regarding those who don’t take the injuries these players suffer seriously. “Never before, to me, has football been so…gladiatorial.”
As avid sports fans we seem to forget that the players admire on the television screen have psychological feelings and emotions just like we do. They go home to their families after they play their games and attend their practices. They go through daily routines, maybe with different tasks, but they do have a life with feelings. A local superstar, Allen Robinson Jr. who played his collegiate ball at Temple University in Philadelphia, took his own life at the age of 25. After studies were performed on his brain at Boston University, it had shown Robinson had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The article posted to Associated Press states “Family lawyer Ben Andreozzi said that Robinson had several concussions during two seasons in the league.” Obviously players will suffer concussions. It is a contact sport that players are getting paid to play. It is a career, but the awareness of the snowball effect of concussions is not high enough. The league is not taking enough action to try and help those who suffer concussions that lead to depression and even suicide. The families of the players who are currently suffering or have suffered from CTE, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and suicides related to football are going to receive a payment from the NFL, but does that bring back the life of Allen Robinson Jr.? Can a payment really fulfill the rest of his life when he only died at 25 years old? It seems money can solve many problems in this world and in this country. However, when someone takes their life due to mental and emotional issues suffered while playing professional football, money is not the answer to gain respect or forgiveness. It takes a collaborative effort through mental and health experts. There should be therapists to help cope with the conditions these players are facing.
On October 9, 2012 the struggling Kansas City Chiefs lost a football game to the Baltimore Ravens with a score of 9-6. The Chiefs were not having a great year and of course, it was displeasing to the fans of the organization. Throughout the year they had scolded their quarterback and leader, Matt Cassel. In that game he committed three costly turnovers that may have changed the outcome. But in the fourth quarter of that game he was hit hard by Ravens defensive linemen Haloti Ngata. He remained on his back for several minutes while trainers and team doctors attended to him. While he was on the field being attended to, fans in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium began to cheer and for all the wrong reasons. They were not cheering because he had hopped up and seemed to be in good shape. They were cheering because they knew he had a concussion and would be sat out with doctors for the rest of that game if not for several other games. In an interview with the media after the game, Eric Winston an offensive linemen commented on the fan reaction to Cassel’s injury. He called the reaction “100 percent sickening.” He stated that he had felt embarrassed because Matt Cassel is a human just like the rest of the team that “work their butts off”. Cassel remains in the NFL today as quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys but as fans of the game, we need to understand that there is more to football then the 45 minutes that are played every Sunday. As professional football players they understand that they “signed up” for this game. Winston stated in his interview “I’ve already come to the understanding that I probably won’t live as long because I play this game but that is okay because that is a choice I’ve made. That is a choice all of us made.”
When parents sign their children up for a sport for the first time one of the first questions is: Who is my child’s coach? Who will lead my child to success? Who will teach my child the necessary technique it takes to become a good athlete? But most importantly, who will watch out for my child while he or she is taking part in the game? Coaches are looked at in many different ways. Some coaches are even parents, but in the end coaches should all have the same goal. They should be interested in helping the child succeed in the sport they are playing but also teach them about life along the way.
Marvin Lewis has been coaching the Bengals since the year 2003. Prior to his tenure with Cincinnati he made numerous stops at several locations including Idaho State, Long Beach State, New Mexico, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Washington. He has always been regarded as one of the best coaches in the NFL. He has posted a record of 109-92-2 record while head coaching the Cincinnati Bengals. He won Coach of the Year in 2009 and won the Super Bowl as an assistant. However in 2014, Lewis made comments about Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict’s concussion. According to Huffington Post’s article titled “NFLPA President Rips Bengals Coach over Questionable Concussion Comments”, “Lewis seemed to suggest that the media is to blame for the concussions lingering longer.” Lewis then referred to his coaching resume saying “I coached defense and linebackers for a long time and concussions didn’t linger.”
As a coach, especially as a professional sports coach where Marvin Lewis is looked at as a role model, there is no right for him to make these accusations. Concussions are a much more serious thing than ever before. As a society we cannot blame the media for a physical injury that shortens the lives of these players. He is supposed to be there as a support system for his player and especially support the league in raising awareness. There is a chance Lewis was just not educated enough about the topic of concussions. His job title does not force him to learn medical procedures which could lead to him making these comments. This is where the league needs to take action. There is no reason for coaches to say these types of things. The league should be educating every coach, official, and player in the game. This should not only take place in the NFL either. It should be passed down to college, high school, and youth leagues.
In America sports are taken very seriously. From the tailgates to the parades, the citizens of the country love their sport. The players love it even more. They are aware of the long lasting ramifications the sport of football has on their lives and their family’s lives. They accept the challenge and provide us with unlimited entertainment from September to February. However this is no excuse to the NFL not being aware of how concussions play the biggest role in the NFL. Just because the players are willing to be paid to suffer concussions, does not give the league a reason to not show any attention to the topic.
“What You Don’t Know About Concussions.” The Huffington Post. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
“Concussions in the NFL: Are Players Beginning to Value Their Brains More than the Game?” Behind the Steel Curtain. 7 June 2015. Web. 6 Dec. 2015.
“Fantasy Football Is Teaching Us To Dehumanize Players In Pain.” The Huffington Post. Web. 7 Dec. 2015
“Autopsy: Another NFL Ex-Player Who Killed Himself Had Brain Disease.” The Huffington Post. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.
“NFLPA President Rips Bengals Coach Over Questionable Concussion Comments.” The Huffington Post. Web. 7 Dec. 2015.