Look, we love this game. It is our new national pastime, and from the lights of Friday to Monday night’s readiness, we’re giddy. Sadly, with the benefit of time and modern medicine, we’re realizing that the human body was never intended to play this game. Evolution has given us an unfortunate combination — physically delicate gray matter encased in a rigid skull. When an athlete receives a blow to the head, the two collide. Guess which one loses?
The dangers of concussions cannot properly be showcased here, and definitely not by me. It is very well explained in Chris Nowinski’s Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis. It’s a book that will completely change the way you look at the game, particularly when a player takes a shot upstairs. It also reveals what that player risks if he continues to play. In short, the brain needs time to heal, and if it’s denied that respite, the short- and long-term consequences are terrifying.
Nowinski is working with a research team at Boston University, a group that has gotten several retired NFL players to donate their brains to research when they die, including former Patriot and NESN analyst Ted Johnson. Thus far, the team’s research has shown links between multiple hits to the head and depression, Alzheimer’s and brain damage.
We’re not sure, but the message may be getting through to people that matter. On the season finale of Hard Knocks, Marvin Lewis and the Bengals reacted to Ben Utecht’s fifth career concussion by sitting him for the rest of the season, a decision Utecht seemed at peace with. Who knows if “team” and player acted differently because cameras were rolling? What is clear is that this particular head, in this instance, will have time to heal.
As for our roles in all this, more needs to be done. We can start by ignoring the nonsensical cries that the NFL is getting soft. We can applaud the demise of televised “Jacked Up”-type segments worshipping carnage. We can watch our gridiron-involved children with fervor. And when we wonder why the battered star player is taking “too long” to return to his job this season, we can keep his mind’s makeup in mind.
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