Best’s case shows why players want to take chances with concussions

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The NFL’s fairly recent push to prevent concussions and, more importantly, to ensure that players who have concussions are prevented from playing until healthy, has created an odd tension for many players.

Men who choose to play football and who choose to accept the risks inherent to the sport often don’t want to be prevented from assuming those risks, especially when absence from the place where those risks are taken could result in someone else taking their job.  No current situation better exemplifies that than the case of Lions running back Jahvid Best, who has landed on injured reserve more than a month after suffering his latest concussion via helmet-ground contact that didn’t appear at first blush to be particularly serious.

When Best returns in 2012, assuming he’s able, any given snap could result in Best missing another extended stretch of the season.  At some point, then, the Lions will look for someone who has no history of concussions to be their top tailback.  Otherwise, the Lions constantly will risk putting themselves in the position of having to rely on an assortment of second-tier guys after Best has his next concussion, forced to hope that they can get a random big game from a guy like Kevin Smith.

In hindsight, even Matt Millen wouldn’t have traded back into the bottom of round one with the Vikings to get Best in 2010.  When he’s available to play, he plays well.  But coaches want players who’ll be available to play, and the practical consequence of the new sensitivity to concussions is that it makes players who are otherwise willing to play unavailable, and thus unattractive.

As a result, more running backs with a history of concussions at lower levels of the sport will slide in the draft, absent true gamebreaking skill that justifies taking the chance.  And more running backs will be run out of the game prematurely, with coaches drawn to players who either have had no concussions or who have been able to hide them.

That’s where this is headed.  Especially at running back, players will try harder and harder to hide concussions, because the diagnosis and treatment and unavailability that comes from having concussions will end careers prematurely.

Somewhere, there’s a proper balance between protecting men from themselves and allowing men to exercise their inalienable right to risk their health, safety, and well-being.  We are a nation that was founded and fueled by risk-takers.  At some point, men need to be permitted to pursue their chosen profession, even if the profession entails risk.  Plenty of men (and women) make a lot less money at jobs that entail far more risk than playing tackle football.

That doesn’t mean we should quit applying skepticism when it appears that players and teams hide concussions.  It’s a serious medical condition that needs to be properly evaluated and treated.  At some point, however, after the player has regained basic functions and is capable of understanding and accepting the risks, he should have the ability to choose to take that risk.

Anything else would be, at a certain level, un-American.

28 responses to “Best’s case shows why players want to take chances with concussions

  1. I was mostly on board until that last sentence. It’s hard to pick up on your tone, but invoking the “un-American” sentiment is almost never effective.

  2. Along with the ability to choose to take the risk should be liability waivers and releases so teams do not bear the brunt of litigation down the line.

    Maybe players should be covered be workers comp for these sorts of injuries.

    With maximum benefits of, what, $300/week.

  3. Multiple concussions can lead to the degenerative disorder Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. Since this disease cannot be diagnosed until after death, the condition is 100% fatal left untreated.
    Players who choose to continue to play despite multiple concussions, are literally risking death.

  4. Interesting article. The way concussions are handled now is akin to packing a car with Styrofoam peanuts in case of a crash. It’s a little overboard in my opinion but given the long term risks, they’re right to be cautious.

    Prevention us the key. Unfortunately, I doubt much else can be done in this area. Best was wearing one of those new helmets at the time was he not? What about mouth guards? I’ve heard they help but I’m skeptical.

    I hope Best can have a great career when he returns to the game.

  5. None of this has anything to do with the fact that letting guys play with concussions is a serious risk. Have the NFL hire independent neurologists to test questionable players after every game, and heavily fine teams that allow guys to play with concussions. Leave the team-level management up to the coaching staff. I’m sure they’ll find a way to figure out who is hiding concussions once their pockets start emptying.

    There’s absolutely no justification for letting players ruin their lives.

  6. I agree players should be able to choose to play concussed, but if they want to do that they should have to sign a waiver saying they won’t sue the NFL for receiving a concussion and that if they are determined to play with one, any concussion-related medical bills will be not be covered under their health plan. I doubt teams will ever allow this however, because if a player dies on the field from a known brain injury…I can’t even imagine the backlash. It’s pretty unlikely, but I can’t imagine any team even risking it. Also, coreydemoss, I think he’s speaking a little tongue in cheek regarding the un-american part.

  7. As far as the drafting thing goes, you aren’t really saying anything that hasn’t been known already. When teams look at drafting players, they treat concussion-prone players no different than they treat players with shoulder or knee problems. They are all risks. Sam Bradford has a history of shoulder injuries. He was a risk. The Rams took him #1 anyway and just crossed their fingers the shoulder would hold up.

    Look at Aaron Rodgers also. Some would say he is concussion-prone given he had two last year. But I bet if their were an NFL Redraft, he would go #1 every time, because the reward outweighs the risk.

    So you really aren’t saying anything that the entire NFL hasn’t already known. Injury-prone players (knees, shoulders, concussions, etc.) are a risk. Teams just need to see if the risk is warranted given the players potential.

  8. for the kind of money these guys are making – i don’t care if they have a concussion, shoot steroids, eat amphetamines, or drink battery acid – if they (and they are all adults) believe that’s the price they need to pay for fame – LET’EM PLAY!!!

  9. i agree with jimmy with one addition… we should not as taxpayers or independent insurance buyers have to help cover the downstream costs for a decision to play that backfires on these guys.

  10. Amen! Do you hear that GODell? The truth of the matter is that not every player who suffers multiple concussions is going to experience permanent injury. For every one player who’s had concussions and is permanently injured there are hundreds of players who also suffered multiple concussions and went on to function normally and live productive lives after football. I doubt there’s many who have played high school and college football who have not suffered at least one minor concussion (ie got your bell rung). And, that’s before they’ve even played one down in the NFL. That’s the risk NFL players take. Which is why I never complain about their salary.

    Troy Aikman says he has no symptoms from his 10 concussions during his Hall of Fame career……….

  11. This site gets to be more of a joke with every article.

    For a week you used Best as the poster child for how Jim Schwartz and the NFL try to get around the injury and now you’re writing how the NFL should allow players to play and using the same guy to boot.

    Classic “controversial” media approach that makes me sick.

    Pick one side and stay with it and I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but going where the wind blows everyday is despicable.

  12. Shane Dronett,Dave Duerson and Andre Waters all suffered from post-concussion syndrome and all committed suicide.

  13. “un-American”? What kind of garbage is that? Concussions and apple pie? Come on.

    NFL teams are under no obligation to take financial risks on injured players. There’s no God-given right to play pro football. Every player is an investment. If someone becomes a risk because of injury, then why should a team continue to invest in them? Let’s face it, whether or not there’s a league policy in place, concussed players are damaged goods. They won’t be as reliable or as useful in the long term.

    Along with all the “results” of the league’s policy you listed, you forgot one: that fewer men will be damaged for life in ways that will hurt not only them, but their families.

    This idea that men should be allowed to do what they want may apply to real jobs of real significance, but this is just a game. This is all just a bunch of empty fakery that doesn’t advance society at all. To have a mature stance on concussions shows at least some acknowledgement of football’s real importance in the grand scheme of things. Which is small.

  14. I think I agree on some points. Yes, if a guy wants to play, he should be allowed, but part of the lockout this year dealt with insurance for retired players. I think everyone should be allowed a particular level of coverage after retiring but, if you make the decision to play concussed, you should lose some of that coverage.

    As long as their willingness to compete doesn’t result in (more) required coverage after retirement, I think it’s fair. Just bc a soldier volunteers for an additional tour of Afghanistan, you don’t get extra insurance upon retirement.

  15. kevpft sounds like the same argument corporations use to hire men over women.

    I mean hey she could get pregnant at anytime if that happens why should a team (company) continue to invest in them?

  16. Eh, not really.

    I’m not sure any jobs entail more total risk than tackle football, outside of certain war assignments. For example, police officers hardly ever actually get hurt. It’s just that the rare occasions when it happens get a lot of press. There aren’t any jobs that make you more likely to require surgery than football, or that beat up your brain more than football.

    Most people, whether football players or not, aren’t informed enough to truly appreciate the risk of head injuries. And these head injuries affect more people than just the player. Just like we have seatbelt laws because many people can’t appreciate the risk and because it costs more than just the individual to get hurt, it makes sense for the NFL to have concussion rules.

    The fact is that football is on the way out. It seriously messes up brains, and there is no real way to make it safer. I love watching it, but it can’t last.

  17. Soft shelled helmets. They absorb so much but would look really lame. So, the league keeps its shiny helmets.

    Soft shelled helmets.

    Aside from my diatribe, if a guy gets a bad report from a physician, he gets the report, maybe a second opinion, then decides what to do next. Go back to work or get surgery. What’s different, here? If Best wanted to play and the team put him on IR for the season against his wishes (unless the Lions thought his lingering issue or likelihood to re-injure would negatively impact his play) then I feel bad for Best.

  18. what about coal miners? Thet could be crushed at any moment, risk health issues with the dirty air, and have tremendous ware on there bodies from their work. Any job like this has its risks and at a point is up to each person to decide if its worth it. if football is the way a man provides for his family, then i think he’ man enough to decide if he plays or not. Assuming he’s able to fuction mentaly.

  19. I don’t know what it’s going to take for Roger Goodell and the NFL to get their heads out of the dark ages and realize, the solution has been right before them, for years.

    Mark Kelso, Bills safety 86-93 and Steve Wallace, 49er 86-96, both used the “Pro Cap” to extend their careers after suffering numerous concussions…and IT WORKED!

    Willie Lanier suffered a career threatening concussion when he was a KC Chiefs rookie in 1967 and a team trainer came up with the idea of putting a 4 inch wide strip of shock absorbing foam on his helmet and he went on to have a Hall of Fame career spanning 11 seasons.

    What more evidence does Goodell and the NFL need…add padding to the outside of the helmets, just has been done in the past and concussions will be greatly reduced ?

    Time to question the NFL about WHY, they have not mandated this upgrade to NFL helmets.

  20. “At some point, however, after the player has regained basic functions and is capable of understanding and accepting the risks, he should have the ability to choose to take that risk.”

    I agree with your statement but the problem doesn’t show up until a few years after the player has retired and is now deciding to sue the league. The league had better have an airtight agreement that the player can understand without all of the dollar signs blocking his view.

  21. Millen wouldn’t have traded back into round 1 to get best, because he would have taken him 8th overall – or wherever the Lions picked that year.

  22. “In hindsight, even Matt Millen wouldn’t have traded back into the bottom of round one with the Vikings to get Best in 2010.”

    Uhhh, no. Mutt Millen would have done that. Only Millen would have ended up paying a lot more for the opportunity.

  23. kevpft says:

    ‘This idea that men should be allowed to do what they want may apply to real jobs of real significance, but this is just a game. This is all just a bunch of empty fakery that doesn’t advance society at all.’

    Yes but it’s highly-compensated empty fakery. What you fail to mention is that many players earn in a year more than the majority of people earn during their whole working lives. And face it. Far too many players read and write at a grade school level and are otherwise virtually umemployable. Do you think someone in that circumstance will want to retire from the NFL?

  24. There is still great resistance to using the soft shelled helmets.The Gladiator that is full on foam covered helmet seem to reduce concussion greatly but player would rather have brain damage than look like the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones.The other stumbling block is Riddell’s partnership with the NFL where they bring experts to committee meetings to say that the soft shelled helmets are lethal and will lead to broken neck left and right.Riddell would rather have brain damage than lose their bottomline.

  25. Asking a concussed player if he can get back in there for the team is like asking a woman who’s drunk if she wants to roll in the hay. Neither one is capable of making that decision because their brains are compromised.

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