I just finished an NFL year-end panel discussion for CBC Radio’s Day 6 along with Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky, and Sean Conboy, the sports editor for Pittsburgh Magazine. It’ll air this Saturday (Shame? ha, I have none of it), and we meandered through a handful of topics that became significant talking points for the public at large during the 2012 season, and not just football fans. Remember Bob Costas’ halftime gun control editorial during a football game that had a nation wanting to see him fired because he had the balls to have an opinion? Yeah, that sort of thing.
Of course, a cultural discussion of that nature this year (or sadly, any recent NFL year) can’t happen without concussions and head trauma included as well. We learned only recently that Junior Seau did in fact have a degenerative brain condition, and Barack Obama has wondered aloud about the safety of the game, saying he’d be hesitant to let his child play if he had a son. The NFL is also a league where players are still hiding concussions, and therefore intricate steps have been put in place to protect them from themselves.
That’s why every item even remotely tied to concussions and head injuries will continue to receive immense public scrutiny, and it’s why this is so discouraging…
NFLPA health & safety survey: 78% of polled players don’t trust their team medical staffs; 43% say training staffs are ‘good’ #Colts
— Phil Richards (@PhilRichards6) January 31, 2013
As it always has, Super Bowl week functions as more than just a relentless buildup to three hours of football. It’s also an NFL convention, with nearly every major league figure and media member mingling in the host city. The survey results above were shared by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith during his yearly press conference earlier this afternoon. The percentages are both scary, and sadly, understandable.
With the amount of return-to-play protocol that’s in place for players following a possible concussion, you’d hope that players would trust team doctors with their personal safety. Maybe the problem is simple: they trust their doctor more.
And then if we topple the next domino, the reason there’s greater trust in a private doctor who’s on the players’ side lies in the greater chance of a more favorable response following a concussion. Or at least that’s the likely perception, even if it’s not reality.
An accelerated path back to the field may not matter for the elite, upper-echelon players like, say, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. But what about the special teamer who suffers a concussion? He’s already making a minimal salary by NFL standards, and since the overwhelming majority of contracts are only partially guaranteed, a prolonged absence due to a head injury could lead to being cut, and then not seeing that payday.
As much as we want and need the tough, macho dude culture around the NFL to change quickly as it pertains to concussions, sheer finances and the NFL salary structure will always be looming hurdles. That’s partly speculation, though, something I’ve dabbled in from time to time (see: daily).
Another much more reliable step towards greater player safety was taken today when the NFL announced that independent neurologists will be on sidelines. The neurologists will obviously be there to treat and diagnose concussions, and they won’t be paid by teams, or included on their payroll in any capacity. That’s been a major problem, of course, because while players — like the aforementioned low-tier special teamer — could attempt to hide symptoms, a team doctor could also feel pressured to clear a player for a return to the field when his condition doesn’t warrant it whatsoever.
Independent neurologists on sidelines is another step that will hopefully minimize the amount of wrongful death suits in the future, and improve post-football life.