The Pro Football Concussion Report

A Fan's Look at Head Injuries and the Concussion Crisis in Football

Brain Injuries Just Can’t Get No Respect


Players don’t respect them.

It’s hard enough to get team owners, coaches and the medical staff to recognize and appropriately treat a possible brain injury, but when the players themselves are afraid to admit an injury, it’s obvious we’re a far way from home, folks. You watch 22 year old RG3 suffer a concussion, fight to stay on the field, and then return to action the very next practice. You know it’s wrong, but the NFL needs him, the dude gets paid millions and besides, the docs say the kid passed a concussion test. And of course, it’s not just the young ones like Griffin. Nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed says, “We signed up for it. We know what can happen.”  Reed goes on to say about Junior Seau, “Junior gave everything to football, and I’m sure he’s looking down with no regrets.” Weird thing to say about a wealthy, young, popular retired father who shoots and kills himself one morning while his girlfriend’s at the gym.


Docs don’t respect them.

The NFL teams have filled their medical staffs with orthopedists, internists and certified athletic trainers that love their jobs, love the sport, and love their teams. Some of the docs make a fortune repairing knees in private practice because they’re NFL docs. Some speak out knowingly about concussions. But very few are neurologists. That is, very few of the NFL doctors who are on the frontlines, on the sidelines, are brain injury specialists. Perhaps they are sports medicine docs, or orthopedists, or internists, but it may currently be that not even a single NFL team has a neurologist on the sideline during games and at practices.

Knee injuries on the other hand get respect. Knee experts are roaming the sideline, waiting to do that thing where they bend and twist the knee, the cart drivers are equipped and on-call, some teams even have their own million dollar MRI and CT imaging center on-site.

Ironically (or, maybe not ironically) the neuropathologist who was first to identify, describe and name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) as an illness in football players is not even a sports fan. Nigerian-born Dr. Bennett Omalu, thinks that football is a stupid activity. He has no interest or concern for the good of football, or our culture. When speaking out about his medical findings, he doesn’t consider the risks of scaring children and their parents away from playing competitive sports. And that’s not how the NFL prefers their medical experts to speak.


Owners don’t respect them.

Perhaps they do, perhaps they don’t. We really don’t know. The 32 NFL team owners (31? Who owns the Packers, it really can’t be the cheeseheads, right?) rarely say anything about brain injuries or neurologists or the lawsuits in which over 4,000 former players are suing them. Perhaps this is why they don’t let fellow billionaires like Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump own a team. None of the owners who inherited the pride of the community from grandma and grandpa are going around telling the media that Bob Lilly and Leroy Kelly are trying to rip them off. At least not publicly. This apparently is why they hire folks like Roger Goodell. Goodell is expert at saying the same two or three sentences over and over again in regard to the issue. “Safety is the NFL’s number one priority. And number two and number three.”  Sure, no one believes him, but at least that’s his story and he’s sticking to it.


Brain damage is the worst injury a football player can suffer. It’s different from wrecked knees, from bad shoulders, even from depression arising from an NFL retiree’s dramatic change in career, lifestyle and purpose. Sometimes hidden for years, for some, a brain injury can make life itself too difficult to go on. For others, a brain injury may cause a retired player to retreat into a mysterious world in which he longer recognizes his wife, his children or even himself.


It’s tragic to watch confident, well-paid voices like Roger Goodell, chosen by 32 wealthy American families to speak for them on this issue, not even be able to admit that there maybe a long term link between football and brain damage. Even though this point is not one that anybody not on the receiving end of an NFL check denies.  This is what Joe Fan means when he says “these guys know what they signed up for.” This is what your family doctor says if you ask him. How could banging heads with that kind of size, and that amount of force, on a regular basis, for so many years not cause brain damage? Well the NFL doesn’t have any proof of that. Nor do any of the doctors, researchers or medical experts that they employ or finance. This causes some controversy within the scientific community, but as long as the controversy rages on, the game may play on with a few more fines, some new penalties, a couple commercials and perhaps, aghast . . . no kick-offs.

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