Rejoice, for we’ve made progress. The step was small, and so very many remain, but yesterday amid the clowns and wrestlers and weird balloon poodle dogs and the abundance of women in cocktail dresses during Super Bowl Media Day, a small hurdle was toppled. When it hit the ground, puppies smiled, and baby angels learned how to fly.

Or maybe it didn’t fall, and maybe most NFL players are still willing to disregard their health and long-term well being to play a game they care so deeply about (please don’t hurt me, Jason Taylor). But yesterday, Alex Smith gave us the gift of hope.

During Media day the athletes who are participating in the Super Bowl talk about stuff, and that process of discourse generally meanders between nonsense and fluff, with questions mostly concentrating on what kind of table condiment a player would be, or whether or not he’s ever farted in a teammate’s locker (you must respect the locker room code). But occasionally when the sun is at a specific point in the sky, a serious question is asked, and a serious issue is discussed.

Predictably, that happened with Ray Lewis when he was first asked about a certain evening in Atlanta 13 years ago, and then again when friendly members of the press wondered if he put deer-antler spray on his body. But head trauma is another troubling subject of great concern around the NFL, and specifically the culture surrounding head injuries in the league that still lingers despite recent legislation to limit bruising blows. Even more specifically, there’s one very concerning question: would a player ever put football ahead of his long-term health?

Alex Smith had the option to hide his concussion earlier this year, and his decision to tell trainers about his blurry vision and dizziness when he came to the sideline during a Week 10 game against the St. Louis Rams led to his permanent demotion after Colin Kaepernick took over as the 49ers quarterback. Ultimately, it’ll also likely lead to Smith playing football elsewhere soon, with the Niners possibly set to either trade or release him shortly after the season concludes Sunday.

Sure, treating a brain injury seems like common sense to the average man. But football men aren’t average men, and somewhere in the back of his mind Smith is surely aware that he may never get another shot to lead a Super Bowl caliber offense again.

So, Alex, do you regret how you handled your injury?

(from Ralph Vacchiano)

“No, no, no, not at all. I mean, we’re all going to be done with this game at some point. We’ve got a lot of life ahead of us. You err on the side of caution with that head stuff. There’s no brain transplants that I’ve ever heard of. You only get one. It’s not something to mess around with.”

Ahhh, so much truth. It feels good, and warm, and logical. Spit it again, Alex…

“I think it ultimately comes down to the doctors and the players and how they feel. I don’t think anybody is going out there recklessly. If guys don’t think they’re ready and can’t go in then I don’t think they’re going to mess with it.”

Nothing is worth brain damage, of course, not even a championship. Again, you’re likely saying duhhhh right now, because that should be common sense. But there was a time not so long ago in NFL circles when it wasn’t, and for many fringe players who are truly clawing for a roster spot and fighting to maintain employment, it still isn’t. That has to change.

And now the links part of the links post…

  • Or maybe Smith won’t be a former 49er soon, as CEO Jed York said they hope to keep him while he correctly noted that one quarterback often isn’t enough during any season. [PFT]
  • Need more evidence of the long-lasting effects of playing football? Of course you don’t, but yesterday Ed Reed said that he wakes up some mornings and thinks “where did my memory go?” [CBS]
  • Another interesting/depressing knowledge nugget dropped during media day didn’t involve the two Super Bowl teams, but it was fantastically horrible nonetheless. Former Jets general manger Mike Tannenbaum is a former GM in part because he used the wins stat to evaluate Mark Sanchez. Let me repeat this loudly for you: THE WINS STAT IS MEANINGLESS. [Newark Star-Ledger]
  • Tannenbaum also took responsibility for the failure that is Tim Tebow. [NESN]