Eyebrows were raised earlier this week when Peyton Manning indicated he intentionally tanked the baseline concussion test mandated by the NFL in order to help his chances of gaining clearance following a subsequent test.
“They have these new [brain] tests we have to take,” Manning said. “Before the season, you have to look at 20 pictures and turn the paper over and then try to draw those 20 pictures. And they do it with words, too. Twenty words, you flip it over, and try to write those 20 words. Then, after a concussion, you take the same test and if you do worse than you did on the first test, you can’t play. So I just try to do badly on the first test.”
His comments came on the heels of another report that similar practices are common around the league and, as a result, backed up the findings in that report. Or it did until Manning walked back the comments in an interview with the Indianapolis Star.
“Not true; I wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I understand the seriousness of concussions. Our job was to be entertaining to the crowd. Got some laughs out of it, but it was really unfortunate.”
Manning also said that he thought Rick Reilly’s story about the joint interview he sat for with his father and brother would make it clear that his comments about concussion tests were “tongue in cheek.” Much of the interview did come off as light-hearted, but Reilly teased the comments and didn’t really frame them as an obvious joke anywhere in the text.
In light of the other stories about players intentionally flunking their baseline tests, it is hard to imagine why Manning thought his comments would be seen as an obvious joke. It’s also fairly tough to see why traumatic head injuries would be a topic of great humor given all that we’ve learned about the cumulative effect they have on those who suffer them.
Joking about concussions and the rules put in place to protect players who suffer them also hinder attempts by players to maintain that the NFL isn’t doing enough about player safety. It’s perfectly fine for players to be glib about the dangers they potentially face as a result of playing professional football, but you can’t really have things both ways.