Concussions in football and why we are the problem

By Shaun Jarrar

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Wildcard weekend. The very first drive of the very first game of what is shaping to be an exciting race to Super Bowl 48. Jamaal Charles, the starting runningback of the Kansas City Chiefs goes down with what looks to be a head injury.

In a crowded conference room in Missouri, Chiefs fans gasp.

“It’s only a concussion,” says one onlooker, “he’s gotta come back.”

“He probably just had the wind knocked out of him, don’t worry.”

“Andy Reid (can’t) let him sit the rest of the game. They’ll lose!”

And it was during this time that I noticed something very awry. The focus had shifted from Charles’ health to his commitment to the team; to Andy Reid’s gall to leave his star player, a perennial pro-bowler, out of the game. Jamaal Charles accounts for over 37 percent of the Chiefs yards from scrimmage. That is insane. The Texas product carried the 2013 Chiefs on his back. The Chiefs, who ended up losing the game, could have easily lost hope as soon as he went down.

They didn’t. Before the iconic meltdown that led to the Colts 35-6 run in the second half, the Chiefs held a 38-10 lead. Andy Reid put faith in his trainers, who ran concussion tests on Charles and determined that he was not ready to play again anytime soon. My point is, the system worked. The Chiefs would have won had the defense not gone missing. The NFL is doing something very good for its players AND its fans and what hit me was the enigma regarding concussions.

The problem

When a casual football fan – or anyone for that matter – criticizes the decisions of trainers, that destroys the integrity of the game. It destroys the integrity of the education these trainers receive to be able to diagnose and treat the players we love so much. Criticism does not stop with the coaching and training staff however. Many are quick to point fingers at the NFL and its referees for the change in how they interpret rules of the game.

It’s very easy to do that if you look at the statistics. In 2013, 217 unnecessary roughness penalties were called against every team, in just the regular season. In 2012 – 176. That is including the playoffs. 2011?  186.  2010 saw 163. Referees are calling more of these penalties. That is the simple fact. Personal foul penalties have increased from 1.81 per team in 2009 to 2.47 in 2013. That might seem like an insignificant rise, but remember – personal fouls in football are subject to ejection.

The reason this is happening is because the NFL is trying to be proactive about preventing concussions and head injuries. Period. There is no arguing the severity of sustaining multiple concussions in a career. Head trauma in sports is being widely publicized now and rightly so.

The “fans” complaining about how these calls are ruining the game often state the game is losing its edge and that it’s going soft. How can a game go soft when a main component is to tackle the ball-carrier? Yes, these calls can drastically change the outcome of the game. But does your team winning one game mean more than your favorite player losing his livelihood?

If you are a cook at McDonalds, wouldn’t you want your boss looking out for your safety? Yes, as a cook your primary job is to prepare this food as quickly as possible. But when Mickey D’s tells you not to touch hot surfaces or requires you to wear gloves to keep you safe from foodborne illnesses, would you argue? Why would you?

Some players don’t get this.

James Harrison was known for his dumb rants about Roger Goodell and referees. Most recently, Brandon Meriweather, a defensive back for the Washington Redskins, spoke out after being fined for his illegal (to the officiating crew – that’s ALL that matters) hit on Brandon Marshall of the Bears. He said, “I guess I just got to take people’s knees out. That’s the only way. I would hate to end a guy’s career over a rule, but I guess it’s better other people than me getting suspended for longer.” There is no place for this.

It’s easy to understand his frustration over getting fined. The game moves at a fast pace. A split-second can mean a career ending injury or a game-saving play. But to compare ending a career because of a knee injury to taking away a man’s ability to think, reason, articulate, speak, eat, and take care of his family? That’s asinine.

Last year, in a week 3 game against the Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs saw their star(ting) quarterback Matt Cassel go down to a concussion. As a Chiefs fan I can tell you, I hated the guy. He was wildly inaccurate. He was goofy. But hundreds of Chiefs fans cheered loudly for his injury. They put winning above his health. That’s when I draw the line.

If you ever find yourself excited over the head injury (or injury for that matter) of an athlete, shame on you.

The Solution

The solution is simple. Shut up.

The game is evolving, as everything else around it. Technology and medicine are making great strides in being able to recognize concussion symptoms as soon as possible. The NFL has realized it was far behind, and is doing everything to catch up. The NFL has a duty of care to its players – who are effectively employees – to make sure they can play the sport safely and be able to be productive and normal members of society afterwards.

Let the referees do their jobs. Let the NFL take care of its players. You might have played high school football 10 years ago but pay phones, fax machines, dial-up, and desktop computers were the norm then.

If you find yourself getting ready to criticize a helmet-to-helmet call, or any call similar, stop yourself and think: could this affect his life in the future? If you don’t care, you are a sick person.

Why it’s important

In May of 2012, Junior Seau, a much respected retired NFL linebacker was found dead. He shot himself in the chest. Someone who had money, a respected career, and children seemed to just give it all up in an instant. After a study on his brain, doctors found that he had been suffering from a degenerative brain disease at the time of his death. His brain told signs of a man who had endured much brain trauma.

Most recently, Tony Dorsett, another revered NFL player, who played runningback, came out with his diagnosis of brain disease. He says he struggles with memory loss and day-to-day activities.

Former NFL defensive back Hamza Abdullah is known for his twitter rant where he slammed the NFL for not protecting players. He even goes as far to say he’s even thought about suicide.

I understand the game is inherently violent. That does not excuse the NFL from trying to protect its players now that it has dealt with former player deaths and suicides. They understand this. They are trying to protect human beings. Please, let them do their job.

If this article changes one mind, it will be successful.