Hines Ward blasts league’s handling of concussions

Media Day has barely begun, and the best sound bite perhaps was provided by one of the players before the thing even started.

Steelers receiver Hines Ward has teed off on the NFL for its handling of the concussion problem, in comments to Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, who has interviewed eight veteran players on the question of big hits and other issues for GQ.

“We don’t know what they want,” Ward said regarding the league’s rules pertaining to helmet-to-helmet hits.  “They’re so hypocritical sometimes. They came out with these new helmets that are supposed to stop concussions.  If they care so much about our safety, why don’t they mandate that we wear the new ones?  If they’re so worried about what concussions will do to us after our careers, then guarantee our insurance for life.  And if you’re going to fine me for a hit, let the money go to veteran guys to help with their medical issues.

“To say the league really cares?  They don’t give a f–k about concussions.  And now they want to add on two extra games?  Are you kidding?  Come on, let’s be real.”

Ward also touched on an issue that arose last week, after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers took a massive hit in the ear hole from Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.  Rodgers, we believe, knew not to look or act like a guy who had suffered a concussion, or else.  Per Ward, it’s not an unusual reaction.

“Now that these new guidelines are in place, you’ll see more and more guys lying to doctors to stay on the field,” Ward said.  “Contracts aren’t guaranteed.  If a guy’s contract is coming up and he gets his bell rung — and if he has a concussion, he’ll have to leave the game and maybe miss another one — trust me, he ain’t tellin’ nobody.  Look at [49ers running back] Brian Westbrook.  He was an elite player who had concussion issues, and he struggled to find work after the Eagles cut him.  Guys saw that.  I’m telling you, if you’re a guy on the bubble or playing for your next contract, you’re going out there and jeopardizing your life to get that payday.”

Or if, in the case of Aaron Rodgers, you’re trying to make it to the Super Bowl.

Ward made headlines during the 2009 season by questioning teammate Ben Roethlisberger after Roethlisberger’s complaints about headaches resulted in Roethlisberger missing a key game against the Ravens with a concussion.

“This game is almost like a playoff game,” Ward told Bob Costas of NBC’s Football Night in America.  “It’s almost a ‘must’ win.  So, I can see some players or some teammates kind of questioning like, ‘Well, it’s just a concussion.  I’ve played with concussions before.  I would go out there and play.’  So, it’s almost like a 50-50 toss-up in the locker room.  You know, should he play, shouldn’t he play.  It’s really hard to say. . . .  I’ve lied to a couple of doctors saying ‘I’m straight, I feel good,’ when I knew I’m really not straight.”

Other players were pragmatic about the risks they take, in exchange for the rewards they receive.  “Yes, there are risks, but other jobs have risks, too,” Cowboys cornerback Terrence Newman told Silver.  “Coal miners go to work knowing the risks.  They’re making a choice to support their family.  We all know what we signed up for.”

And they signed up for it long before they got paid for it.  “A lot of people you talk to, if you ask them, ‘Why did you get into playing football?’ they’ll tell you, ‘When I was 8, I could’ve played soccer or another sport, but I played football because I wanted to hit somebody,'” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita told Silver.  “All of us inherently like contact.”

Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu echoed a similar sentiment to Silver.  “[N]o one forced you to play football.  You chose it.  If you want to completely avoid health risks, maybe you shouldn’t be playing this game.  We signed up for this, man.  My dad [former Patriots running back Mosi Tatupu] played, and I look at the lifestyle it afforded me growing up and what I’m going to leave behind for my family.  You only live once.  I know there’s a risk, but to me all of this outweighs it.”

In past years, players possibly weren’t aware of the specific risks presented by chronic blows to the head.  But they now are, and none have retired because of it.

Many jobs entail varying degrees of risk.  Most sports entail risk.  Many recreational activities entail risk.  The rewards vary as well.  For NFL players, the rewards consist of, at a minimum, a good standard of living and, for the star players, fame and fortune.

As we’ve said before, if 18-year-old men and women can risk life and limb for far less money than pro athletes earn, 21-year-old (and older) men have every right to risk injury, acute and chronic, by playing football.

Still, the players resent the mixed messages from the league office regarding the move to eliminate illegal hits on one hand and a desire to expand the regular season to 18 games on the other.  “Everybody doubts the league’s sincerity,” said Fujita, a member of the NFLPA Executive Committee.  “Quit pretending to be the flag-bearers for our health care and safety when you’re telling us in the next sentence that we need to go to eighteen games.  That doesn’t cut it.  Obviously you don’t give a sh-t about our health and safety.  Remember that photo of [Steelers linebacker James] Harrison making a hit on [Browns receiver Mohamed] Massaquoi?  They fined him $75,000 for that — and at the same time, they were selling it on NFL.com for $24.99.  They kept it there until someone shamed them into taking it down.  I was so pissed off by the hypocrisy of it all.  I was walking around the locker room talking sh-t, and others were doing the same thing.”

Maybe, in the end, the NFL simply needs to quit trying to protect the players from unintended harm they do to themselves and each other.  The players know the risks, they accept the risks, and they want to play.  Efforts to eliminate inherent risks like helmet-to-helmet contact seem impractical in isolation, and hypocritical in comparison to the push to expand the regular season.
Though it’s important for the league both to care about the issue of long-term health consequences and to manifest that care with meaningful programs and actions, the league needs to come up with something  other than taking away thousands of dollars from guys who aren’t intentionally trying to injure anyone while also trying to compel those guys to play two extra full-speed games each year.

46 responses to “Hines Ward blasts league’s handling of concussions

  1. Rather than debate the issues, it’s a lot easier just to call Hines Ward a whiner and a dirty player.

    Fact is, if he played for any other team, he’d be a hero.

  2. This is the same guy who took a stand against the league for fining Harrison on his hits on Cribbs and Massaquoi. He said the league was too soft and the players should just be allowed to play.

    Hard to take his opinion on this seriously now…

  3. It’s not hypocrisy, it’s business. Plain and simple.

    Management wants to protect its investments which are the players. Management wants its investments to earn more capital by playing an 18 game season. They also want to minimize potential liability caused from work related injuries by educating players on work related hazards.

    Players have to understand what they are when it comes to management. They are tools that are used to increase revenue. It’s that way for most corporations all across and outside of America.

  4. Ward is absolutely right!

    The league act and looks like they’re concerned, but it hallow. If they’re truly concerned they should do the following:

    -Suspend, not fine players for helmet to helmet hits. Players make too much damn money; 25-50 grand is nothing. Playing time is the only incentive that a player has to play by the rules.

    – Be concerned with every position not just QB.
    – Don’t promote the hits
    – The fact that a player is defenseless or not should’nt make a difference. A hit to the head, is a hit to the head!

  5. You conveniently forgot to mention that Ward apologized to Ben after he found out it was the team doctors who made the decision before last year’s game @BAL and that Ben had no say in it.

  6. If they care so much about our safety, why don’t they mandate that we wear the new ones?

    **Cuz guys like you would complain….

    If they’re so worried about what concussions will do to us after our careers, then guarantee our insurance for life.
    **If thats what you want, then negotiate it in to the new COB – Or just pay for it with your multi-million dollar contract, its not that hard. But just cuz you have health insurance, doesnt mean they can cure you of post concussion syndrome at age 40.
    And if you’re going to fine me for a hit, let the money go to veteran guys to help with their medical issues.
    **The money already goes to charity, and its a very small amount of money in the grand scheme of things.

  7. Ward and Fujita are absolutely right. According to Gregg Easterbrook in his TMQ column, Aaron Rodgers thinks that his new helmet helped prevent a concussion following Julius Peppers’ hit in the NFC title game. But when Easterbrook inquired, neither Rodgers nor the Packers would talk about the nature of the helmet. The NFL could lean on them, but has said nothing. Does that sound like a league that cares about the health and safety of its players — not to mention the health and safety of thousands of high school and college players who follow the league’s example?

  8. Why bring Aaron Rogers into this? Even if he did have a concussion, he had 2 weeks to recover from it so its not an issue either way.

    ALSO, from what I understand, they have whats called a baseline test – If youve had a concussion, you cant pass it. (google it)

    So lying wont help Heinzo…genius

  9. Maybe, in the end, the NFL simply needs to quit trying to protect the players from unintended harm they do to themselves and each other.  The players know the risks, they accept the risks, and they want to play.  Efforts to eliminate inherent risks like helmet-to-helmet contact seem impractical in isolation, and hypocritical in comparison to the push to expand the regular season

    Where was this common sense talk during the season when most of the commontatorr were siding with the league?

  10. Yes, the NFL was selling the photo of the very play James Harrison was fined for. That pretty much sums up the hypocrisy of Roger Goodell and his minions in the league office.

  11. I love that Hines Ward is speaking up. I’ve got to think he has a clause in his contract that says he isn’t allowed to hide medical issues from the team.

    If players are going to hide issues, which they clearly do, then they must have some sort of doctor-patient confidentiality so that the player can get honest information in confidence to make the most educated decisions.

    If the players could trust the trainers they would be more forthcoming. The players CAN make the decisions for themselves if they had all the information. But the team does what is in its own interest and often this means not giving the players all the information, which forces the players to not give the team all the information.

  12. Throughout the conversation, Hines made several references to someone answering a phone that was ringing… that actually wasn’t…

    He also made comments about loving to hear the ocean waves crashing up against the shore while living in Pittsburgh…

  13. In 1978 Darryl Stingley was paralyzed for life in a pre-season game from a vicious hit. 32 years later the league finally decided to put their foot down on what they perceive to be violent hits. That, ladies and gentleman, is an example of a front office that really cares for the well-being of it’s players?

  14. This might mean something if Hiney wasn’t the dirtiest effin offensive player in the league.

    Concussions are like pregnancies – abstinence is the only sure way to keep people from getting concussions.

    Hey Ward – instead of running your mouth about the league that’s made you a much more rich man than you deserve to be why don’t you stop looking for people to hit when their heads are turned.

  15. Hines Ward and the other players quoted are 100% correct here,it all in a effort to squeeze a healthier 18 game schedule…as in all cases in life its about the money.I applaud all these players for speaking the truth about this and telling it like it is !

  16. xxwhodatxx,

    I thought the same as what you wrote at first, that the players were responsible adults and could make their own decisions about their health. The problem is that by definition when you get a concussion you are NOT capable of making sound decisions.

    I think part of the answer may be for the trainers to be hired by the union and be held responsible for the players health and that is all.

  17. @jerruhjones says:whines ward?he isnt speaking for himself,he is speaking for all the players.he is one of a few that has the guts to stand up and speak for the players.understand what you read before you spout off.

    to all you other hines ward haters…just mad cause he isnt on your team..if he was he would be the greatest blocker u ever seen..

    GodHELL is the biggest problem for the league,as soon as the owners realize that and get rid of him the better off the NFL will be..until then as Mario Lemiuex said about the NHL,this will be a garbage league.him acting like he is the judge jury executioner has got to stop before there is no NFL.moving the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl..was wrong,always been after the super bowl..singling out players all the time,,


  18. Well since he’s part of the problem, he shouldn’t be whining about it. He has perfected getting away with the cheap shot to an art form.

  19. Mr. Ward this is your profession by choice. And why should the NFL kiss every former players ace? Most people who retire get a pat on the back and are advised not to let the door hit where the sun don’t shine on the way out.

  20. I can guarentee you that on sunday, barring ejection from the game, there isnt going to be a linebacker or any other defensive player on the field that not going to decapitate the QB on each side. Now having said that, I hate to see ANY player get hurt period. I dont think any real fan does, but barring putting them in rubber suits, its gonna happen. On the same line of thinking, maybe nascar should slow down because of the pileups at 180 miles an hour. The money ,fame and imortality of the sport are the prize. The injuries are the down side. I can tell you that if I could go back in time and get a 5,10,or whatever million contract I would have signed on the dotted line……………………………..

  21. Ward is speaking the 100% truth…the league has never consistently applied and enforced this “player saftey movement” all that goodell has done is talk and circles and be inconsistent and all over the place in applying fines

  22. “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident…”
    – Arthur Schopenhauer

    /*Stages 1 & 2 refer to most Ravens fans.

  23. Ward is spot on! Where does the money go from the fines imposed on players. I love the idea of it going to retired players for their health bills. And come on NFL, if you want these guys to take such abuse, then give them insurance for life.

  24. The only way to prevent concussions and “illegal” hits is to penalize and fine the offensive players. When a QB leads a receiver right into a scrum of defenders bad things are going to happen.

    Also, I love all the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns fans bashing Hines Ward. He’s been punking your sorry teams for over a decade. He’d be the first guy you’d pick in a re-draft though.

    How’s Chad Muchostinko workin’ out for ya?

  25. GO Steelers !!!!

    Love Hines Ward, he is the definition of a true Steeler player. Loyal to city, team, and fans. Tough will go over the middle and takes pride in making blocks downfield to help run game. Selfless as he has tutored his fellow receivers each season. Talented and Consistent – every season coming up with key catches, and putting Steelers in a position to win.

  26. Congratulations, Mike. That’s the best article you’ve ever written.

    Players DO know the risks, just like boxers know the risks, just like MMA fighters know the risks. It’s a life choice. Don’t ruin the sport. Flagrant hits should be fined, but remember that football is a contact sport.

  27. Sounds like Hines Ward has some intelligence and understanding of the english language. So I take it he didn’t attend “The U”.

  28. Why don’t they call Hines Ward ‘The Truth’ ?
    Mind you that I don’t exactly like the Steelers or rather I actually hate the Steelers.

  29. In other words…Hines was worried too much attention during SB week would be paid to Pouncey and Rothlisberger. Had to create SOME drama. Next he will have a vicious thumb nail that will make him questionable for the game. But at the last second they will clip it and he will ride in and save the day!!

  30. This, coming from one of the league’s dirtiest players, who makes up for his loss of athleticism with cheap shots to players’ blind sides.

    Does anyone remember when he defended James Harrison’s helmet-to-helmet hits earlier this year?

    Pittsburgh – the home of the biggest hypocrites in the country; They’re dirty, act like they want to clean the league up – Big Ben is hated by his whole team for his selfish sexual assaults, and yet the Packers are criticized for lacking unity.

    Let me guess, Pittsburgh is full of non-sinners.

  31. It seems like that the Players who do their Jobs are called Dirty players by some here.

    I am not a Steelers fan but the guy is Tough , would Love to have him on our team. he is Like Rodney Harrison, I am sure if anyof these guys who call them Dirty will sign these same players without blinking.

  32. hell, whines hard causes a lot more concussions than he gets.

    if there was incidental motion that just happens to bring helmets together, that is one thing.

    most hits that are drawing attention are the planned, no-wavering, hits from defensemen. and the occasional offenseman.

    and that is where whines hard comes in.

  33. Your continued and utterly baseless insistence that Aaron Rogers must have sustained a concussion just because he took a hard knock to the head is getting assinine. You have zero idea what may or may not have resulted from that hit. Playing a doctor on the internet hardly qualifies you to diagnose based on the evidence of your freaking TELEVISION SET. Just another ridiculous PFT witch hunt. Give it a rest already, will ya?

  34. I find it quite humorous that all of these people talk about Hines hitting people. So, defensive players have to keep they’re head on a swivel to not get blown up by…. wait for it…. a wide receiver! If you are worried about getting blasted by a wide out, maybe you should rethink your career choice…

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