John Gonoude has been writing for The Concussion Blog since January 2011. He has been an advocate for concussion awareness and education since his medically advised ‘retirement’ from football his junior year of high school in 2008, and has been vocal on the issue of the necessity for education at all levels, especially noting the need for concussed athletes to have a voice in the culture of the game we play today. Gonoude is currently a student at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Literature & Communications and plans to attend graduate school for Bioethics. Follow him on Twitter: @jgonoude_TCB
Michael Vick has been a central figure in this year’s debate on the proper management of traumatic brain injury on the gridiron, and has inadvertently placed himself within a category of his own that stands indicative of the NFL’s “protocol.” Such protocol that demands a player to be removed from the game at any suspicion of having sustained a concussion has dwindled toward a diminishing standard that can be abided by if a team feels that they can continue without that particular player. For the Philadelphia Eagles, of course, they need Vick to be out there every down of every game. They have too much money invested in him, after granting him with a one-hundred million dollar contract. They even shipped their prospective ‘quarterback of the future’ for Vick, at the detriment of Kevin Kolb’s stay. And let us not forget that the Eagles have dubbed themselves during the preseason as the “Dream Team,” only to find themselves in a 1-4 rut at the beginning of the season prior to last Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins.
To retrace our steps a bit, I want to explain how frustrating this pre-Vick-ament has been to me. In June of 2010, I was asked to assist in sponsoring and promoting Pennsylvania House Bill 2060, entitled “Protecting Our Student Athletes,” which was proposed by State Representative Tim Briggs. Part of the support I was asked to give to this legislation included speaking at a press conference at Lincoln Financial Field with Tim Briggs, Tracy Yatsko, Dr. Drew Nagele of the Brain Injury Association of America, and the head athletic trainer of the Philadelphia Eagles, Rick Burkholder. All pushed for support of this bill, and all believed that this was the right thing to do—the right message to send to our youth athletes and program directors. And it was Rick Burkholder who gave a series of compelling statements on the necessity of such concussion management legislation.
“At three different international conferences, experts have determined that younger athletes need more time to recover than older professional athletes,” Burkholder said. “We must educate players, their families and coaches that these injuries are very serious and must be reported immediately. I support House Bill 2060 and its provisions to better educate parents and players on concussions and ensure that injured athletes cannot return to play unless they have received clearance from properly trained health-care providers.”
We all understand that there are clear differences between the implications of concussions in the developing athlete as opposed to the developed athlete, but by his before mentioned statement, did Burkholder really mean ‘need little or no time to recover?’ That’s the message I’ve gotten. A year ago, Stuart Bradley was nearly knocked halfway to hell in a game against the Green Bay Packers. Bradley continued to stumble and then collapse, showing CLEAR signs of traumatic brain injury. But wouldn’t you know it—he was back on the field in a defensive series or two, assuming his position at middle linebacker. That killed me.
We also know that Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion that game, and was seemingly given the proper management to his injury, online to have his starting job swept from under his feet and placed in the future-franchise quarterback’s arm in Michael Vick. This season, Vick sustained a concussion against the St. Louis Rams. Or was it a bitten tongue? Or broken hand? Could it really have been a concussion? The only thing that really mattered in the eyes of the Eagles was that they lost the game significantly after Vick was removed from play, only furthering themselves toward the embarrassment that would follow.
And that takes us to this past Sunday’s game against the Redskins, where Vick took a clear blow to head on a helmet-to-helmet hit, fell to the ground, and exhibited the known reactive signs of a concussion. Not much was really mentioned about this in the media, despite several Redskin and Eagle players waving Burkholder and the Eagles staff to come check Vick out. Did they? No. Was Vick removed, yes, but was he given a proper sideline concussion assessment? Not at all. It took one interception thrown by back-up quarterback Vince Young to get Vick back into the game.
He just had dirt in his eye, right? It snuck up under that visor screwed onto the front of his helmet after he was drilled in the head by a Redskin defender. He was okay.
To be honest, I’m worried. I’m worried for the sake of Vick and players under Burkholder’s watch, and I’m worried for how our youth athletes are going to perceive the treatment in which the Eagles have shown toward concussions, not even two years after publicly announcing their support of legislation that would run along the same lines of that which they are criticized for today. It’s embarrassing. It really is.
What kind of message does the NFL think it is sending to its viewers, but more specifically, to the youth athletes? It is a disgrace to all efforts and compromises the very laws presented to be abided by the very ones we seek to protect, short-term and long-term. Where is the line drawn? And why aren’t more questions being asked? I have never been a fan of how the NFL has addressed this issue, nor do I see that stance changing any time soon. The ambiguosity of the term “concussion” has diluted itself to that of other titles, education efforts by the NFL are minimal, and research funding comes off almost as if they are saying “hush for a while, we’re trying to get people back into football again after the lockout… Here’s some money, keep yourselves busy and we’ll deal with you later…”
WHY hasn’t the NFL Head, Neck, & Spine Committee openly provided the public with a statement regarding this issue that has ever so prevalently surrounded the actions of the Philadelphia Eagles? Are we to question their legitimacy, yet again? Where is Roger Goodell making comment on this speculation? Please, Roger, enlighten us. WHAT is it that you have been doing to treat this issue with care, for the sake of YOUR athletes and the athletes of your FUTURE, other than throwing money at organizations to make you look like the ‘good guy,’ when in reality, it is the NFL buying silence from its research institution counter-parts.
I love football, I really do. But from my own personal experience, from my studies, and from my interactions with others who have been vocal on this issue, there needs to be a respectable mandated authoritative system that cannot allow for these events to occur. The NFL needs to implement the use of independent neurologists, even if they are to be rotated within the officiating crew (as recommended by Will Carroll of Sports Illustrated). It needs to be done. The game needs change. We are dealing with a dynamic of the game that has never been seen before at such prominence, and it is largely due to the fact that neuroscience has reached its golden age. All that can be done SHOULD be done to institute preventative measures that will elongate professional athletes’ careers while reducing the known risks that may lead to the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. These athletes that we place on such high pedestals are human beings. How can we ever forget that?