The recent campaigns to raise awareness of the long-term repercussions of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury have succeeded in opening the eyes of many, but has also failed to plenty making their living within the guidelines of the National Football League. Never have we seen such conflicting parties at work in the past establishing sides that put forth the future of their lives, as well as the lives of their families, in opposition to those who maintain the ‘old-school’ mentality that generally supports the commandment in which “pain is weakness leaving the body.” Never have we seen such a deflation in the all-around machismo of the game of football, where there has been even the slightest consideration of one’s future after the game of football.
In an article published by Alan Schwarz of the New York Times, such an extraction of the changing culture of the game is depicted through a conversation between Donald Driver and Aaron Rodgers after the quarterback had sustained a concussion following a collision against the Detroit Lions on December 12, 2010.
“I went behind him and told him that this game is just a game,” Driver recalled this week. “Your life is more important than the game.”
Heresy! Planting a seed of long-term consideration for Rodgers’ health is an unwritten offense in the culture of the NFL. You can imagine that as Driver approaches the end of his career, he has given much thought about the long-term issues that may or may not be in his future. But even so, there are a handful of players who are open towards criticizing such an issue.
Hines Ward and James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers have been two outspoken individuals about the faults of the league’s attempt to limit the occurrence of head injury through serious enforcement of helmet-to-helmet hits, which led to a series of fines for the ‘tackling’ that James Harrison put on display this season. As Schwarz puts it:
The hard-hitting linebacker James Harrison mocked the N.F.L.’s crackdown on head-to-head tackles, suggesting that the league “lay a pillow down where I’m going to tackle them, so they don’t hit the ground too hard.”
Insight to the stance that Hines Ward holds…
Receiver Hines Ward questioned all the fuss about brain injuries, and said that advising his own oft-concussed quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, about health was all but preposterous.
Schwarz also goes to make a very valid point through the voice of Dr. John P. Sullivan, a University of Rhode Island sports psychologist, upon the actions of the Pittsburgh Steelers regarding its own reprecussions in affecting the decisions made by players at levels below the NFL, entitling it as modeled behavior:
“If the Steelers players do what they’re saying, high school and youth athletes will do the same thing. If you have someone at the top of the game say not to risk it, like the Packers guys did, that’s powerful.”
A main issue in the structure of an NFL game is the athletic trainer’s inability to, by his own power, declare a moment in which he can freeze play in order to properly assess a player who is suspected of having sustained a concussion- quite possibly an idea to be considered in the near future (amongst many other suggestions).
According to the Green Bay Packers athletic trainer, Pepper Burruss:
“It’s not like I can put my hand up and say: ‘That’s it! I need an injury timeout!’ ” Burruss said. “There’s a red flag for a video review, but I don’t have anything to throw out there to check a player out.”
So again, football falls upon this cyclic nature of the unknown, or even the undone, with regards the culture of the game in relation to the actions executed upon the playing field. The NFL must not hold back on their actions taken against the concussion crisis, for the more that they allow evidence of future potential to the exposure of neurodegenerative disease, the more they will see players thinking about their own lives above the television ratings or ticket sales each game provides. It is a necessity to place the decisions of medical professionals above a culture infected by ignorance.