In an era when so much time and effort and worry have been devoted to the potential long-term consequences of minor brain injuries suffered by most if not every football player at most if not every level of the game, it’s easy to forgot the more immediate risk. The one we’ve known about for decades, due in large part to the hit applied by Jack Tatum on Darryl Stingley.
Football players can suffer serious neck injuries with permanent consequences. While so many players are now immobilized as a precaution and then quickly determined to be OK, the risk of paralysis remains — as we all learned through the experiences of men like Mike Utley and Dennis Byrd.
Most recently, Packers tight end Jermichael Finley became the relatively rare NFL player who exits on a stretcher but who instantly isn’t proclaimed to be healthy or close to it. Finley suffered temporary paralysis from a two-centimeter spinal-cord bruise in Week Seven, and he has written a first-person account of the experience for TheMMQB.com.
“Is this God punishing me?” Finley said. “Is this Karma? This was my initial thought when I was down on the field. I felt as if everything that I had ever done wrong came crashing down at me at that one moment.”
Finley instantly knew he had something possibly worse than a concussion.
“I was very conscious, but I could not move,” Finley said. “I looked my teammate Andrew Quarless directly in the eye and whispered, ‘Help me, Q. I can’t move; I can’t breathe.’ The scariest moment was seeing the fear in Q’s eyes. I knew something was wrong, but his reaction verified it.”
So how did it happen? By trying to protect himself from a legal hit to the legs, Finley put himself in position for a dangerous collision.
“I remember seeing the defender out of the corner of my eye, and I intentionally lowered my head and shoulders to protect my knees,” Finley said.
Players consistently say they’d prefer a concussion to a torn ACL. But they surely wouldn’t prefer a neck injury. Even though Finley has improved dramatically, he possibly has a long way to go before he can return to the field.
Finley explained after his recent collision that multiple family members were trying to get him to quit playing. Now, he makes no mention of family resistance in the wake of the neck injury — and he makes clear his plan to return to the game.
“Based on the feedback I’ve received from doctors at this point, the question is not if I’ll play again, but when,” Finley said.
We wish him a return to the level of health that will allow him to play, and that he’ll remain healthy once he does.