Concussions and the NFL Culture

Concussion. It has become the word of the week in these parts. Turn on the TV, listen to the radio or hop on-line in Western Pennsylvania and you will hear all about concussions. It’s enough to, pardon the pun, give you a headache.

Anytime something changes or influences the game and the team we all care about, it becomes big news. The last two weeks, the issue of the concussion suffered by Ben Roethlisberger has led to a rift between teammates, the one-game ascension of a third-string quarterback and a changing of the rules that govern concussions during NFL contests.

The truth that no matter how aware the league has become about the injury or how knowledgable players and fans become about concussions, the nature of the game is not likely to change. Football is a “collision” sport. The whole premise of the game is to hit the opposing player until he falls to the ground. Hardly the action that lessons the chance of concussions.

New rules instituted by the league can now keep a player out of a game if he suffers a concussion. That’s wonderful – in theory – but what player who’s fighting for a playoff spot or even a job is going to voluntarily admit he is not at his best and sit on the sidelines. It’s not the nature of pro football … from the player or fan viewpoint.

Ben Roethlisberger being wheeled off following his third concussion. That was last season. He now has four concussions.

This week, I spoke with Dr Richard Bonfiglio, a local certified MD who deals with brain injuries. He was the man who earlier this week said he would advise Ben Roethlisberger never to take another snap in the NFL following his fourth concussion. He warned of dementia and possibly Parkinson’s disease for the signal caller by the time he enters his 40’s.

That’s scary stuff.

However, in a game which is still in essence a test of how tough you are, few athletes will admit their weaknesses or failings. Don’t believe me? Consider this statistic: The Associated Press polled 160 NFL players. Half admitted they had suffered at least one concussion, but 20% said they had also played down the effects.

It’s clear after this week that concussions are nothing to take lightly and the NFL is taking steps to change the mindset of players, teams and even fans in regards to this issue. But can the league change the culture that pervades pro football?

It just seems the tough guy sport … and the take care of your brain mentality … seem to collide and, in the end, the tough guy may come out on top.

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