Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ladarius Green and the NFL concussion problem
By Ty Anania
Drew Brees recently said on The Dan Patrick Show that he wouldn’t tell his wife if he got a concussion.
The comments came on the heels of Gisele’s revelation that Tom Brady suffered an undisclosed concussion in the 2016-2017 season. And they underscore a deep-seated problem in the NFL.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are now — again — under investigation from the league over whether or not they failed to appropriately handle Brady’s alleged concussion. I don’t expect anything will come out of the investigation. The league has no way of establishing whether or not, at this point, a concussion did occur. Gisele’s allegations don’t amount to substantial proof.
And a possible investigation is not Brees’s given reason for why he would avoid telling his wife. “I wouldn’t want her to worry,” he said. But he went on to describe the first and only documented concussion of his career. He made the point that players aren’t sure whether or not they’ve suffered a concussion, and even if they suspect they have they don’t want to take themselves out of a game. They are too competitive. “That’s why the concussion protocols are in place where you’ve got the independent neurological consultants and the trainers and the referees. Everybody’s supposed to be looking.”
The problem is, more often than not it feels as if nobody is looking.
We all remember that first game of the 2016 season, the SuperBowl rematch between the Panthers and the Broncos. Cam Newton took about five hits that should have warranted concussion testing. But it’s the opening game of the season and a face of the league in Cam Newton. Nobody wanted to pull him from the game, independent or otherwise. And nobody did.
For the majority of players, this issue doesn’t amount to significant ills in their playing career. Post-career life is another issue, of course. The ailments of CTE demand much greater research than they’ve so far received. Some former NFL players are lining up to donate their brains to science once they’ve passed. Hopefully that day is a long time coming. But this research needs some ammo.
And then there are the cases like Wes Welker, or recently released tight end Ladarius Green. Concussions over his playing career had a substantial, insurmountable impact on his ability to perform at a high level. For two years he’s faced splitting, crippling headaches. After spending time in recovery in the hopes that the symptoms would pass, Ladarius Green seems headed for retirement.
Without conclusive research, its hard to say what exactly the risk is of playing with a recently suffered concussion. But it’s an easy pitch to say that it’s something players should avoid. And the sooner the league can figure out how to more strongly implement their rules regarding concussion protocol, the sooner we stop seeing cases like Cam Newton against the Broncos or Tom Brady’s hidden diagnosis, the sooner players can start to feel secure about their future not as former athletes but as citizens and human beings. The sooner the NFL can put this dark issue behind them.
Until that day, football fans need to look squarely at the fact that this sport from which we draw so much enjoyment, on which many of us organize our lives, costs the players that we idolize their future. These are modern-day gladiators. And they shouldn’t be.