As the league tries to improve the protocol for diagnosing concussions during games, the NFL continues to wrestle with a basic reality that exists at every level of the sport.
Football players want to play football. Thus, they’ll be inclined to try to hide a concussion if it means being allowed to continue to play football.
In a series of 44 Associated Press interviews with current players, 23 of them said they would hide a concussion in order to stay in the game. Some said they already have.
But more than two-thirds of the players interviewed also said they would like to see an independent neurologist on the sidelines at games.
“They’ve got guys looking at your uniform to make sure you’re wearing the right kind of socks,” Rams safety Quintin Mikell said. “Why not have somebody there to protect your head? I think we definitely should have that.”
Mikell also said he has hidden concussions to keep playing, and that he accepts the risks of the life he has chosen.
“I’ll probably pay for it later in my life,” Mikell said. “But at the same time, I’ll probably pay for the alcohol that I drank or driving fast cars. It’s one of those things that it just comes with the territory.”
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL’s leading rusher, agreed that he’d hide a concussion in order to keep playing.
“The bottom line is: You have to be able to put food on the table,” Jones-Drew said. “No one’s going to sign or want a guy who can’t stay healthy. I know there will be a day when I’m going to have trouble walking. I realize that. But this is what I signed up for. Injuries are part of the game. If you don’t want to get hit, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
And that captures the essence of the league’s current dilemma. Most players will assume the risks of concussions in order to keep playing, both in the short term and over the long haul. But if the league doesn’t do enough to protect them from themselves while they’re playing, some of them will sue the league after their careers end, claiming that the league should have done more.
It should make for interesting arguments as the pending concussion lawsuits unfold, given that the NFL could choose to try to defend itself by developing evidence (likely through expert testimony) that some players who claim that they suffered long-term injuries due to concussions would have hidden concussions, even if the NFL had done more to protect them. Then again, the former players likely will argue that, if the NFL had been fully candid about the true harm that can be done by head injuries, they would have realized that concussions shouldn’t be hidden.
That said, if more than half of 44 players interviewed at a time when the risks are fully known would still hide concussions, plenty of the players who are now suing the league surely would have hidden concussions, even if the league had better procedures in place before 2009.