Time for the NFL to step up
If the NFL is serious about its so-called concussion policy, Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker has no business playing against New England on Sunday night. And if the league wants to play a parental role protecting its players, it needs to take its role seriously like any parent.
One week ago, I was driving to pick up my son, Harrison, from swim practice. He’s a competitive swimmer who would practice seven days a week if we’d let him; his work ethic along with tremendous talent have allowed him to qualify for the state swim meet.
When I got to his practice a few minutes early, I was surprised to see he was getting dressed. After all, he’s the type of kid who wants to get to practice early while being the last one out of the pool.
As I approached him, I knew he didn’t look right. He told me his coach told him to get out of the water after he slammed his head into the wall while doing the backstroke. His coach gave him a preliminary concussion test that confirmed his fears; Harrison had suffered a concussion.
He went to school the next day and couldn’t make it through his classes. So my wife and I took him out of school early to take him to the doctor. She administered a 22-point concussion test with the focus of the questions on how he was feeling, not a series of questions like, “What day is it?” His score was a five, low for major head trauma, but he had a concussion nonetheless.
The protocol to deal with this was simple: He must stop all physical activity immediately, and then can’t return to the pool for 48 hours until all of the symptoms have gone away.
Any parent would follow this recommendation and take it seriously. And we’re about to find out how serious the NFL is about protecting the players who’ve refused to protect themselves for decades.
When Welker was injured against the Chiefs, he was examined for a neck injury by the team training staff and physician, but wasn’t given the formal baseline concussion test.
If Welker had been formally evaluated for a concussion following the play, it would have been announced in the press box.
And while I’m not accusing the Broncos of being negligent, two doctors I spoke to, who’ve treated patients with concussions, said they would have given a formal baseline test even though it was a neck injury. The Broncos don’t always administer that test with every neck injury, which begs the question, why not?
Welker was evaluated for three minutes and 30 seconds in real time. He was back on the field one minute later.
Welker finished the series that led to a field goal. Then, it was announced in the press box that the wide receiver had a baseline test and was out of the game with a concussion.
Now, it’s up to an independent doctor, per the new league mandate on concussions that was instituted this season, to make the final evaluation for Welker’s status on Sunday. And independent or not, this guy has an enormous responsibility to properly evaluate each player and be able to decipher if a player is telling him the truth or not.
The curious case of Wes Welker is simple. He desperately wants to play on Sunday against his former team, so he’s even less likely to be truthful about his exam later this week. And unless he’s truthful with the independent doctor, a proper diagnosis will be difficult to evaluate.
The NFL has conveniently passed the buck to someone “independent” to wash its hands of any culpability.
If my son, who I believe suffered far less head trauma than Welker, is going to miss more than a week of practice for something considered minor then Welker should not be on the field for his own safety. Sometimes, players have a difficult time protecting themselves, so someone has to do it.
The problem is that players are willing to risk serious long-term injury because they fear losing their jobs since none of their contracts are guaranteed. Welker has made his money and is already a borderline Hall of Famer, so he’s got very little to worry about. But what about the player who’s the 53rd guy on the roster?
If the NFL was serious about treating concussions, they would guarantee all contracts so no player would be afraid of losing their position on the team.
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby missed more than 10 months with a concussion. And Welker might be on the field in a week?
The NFL paid out millions to retired players in a recent lawsuit, but that was more about giving money to make a problem go away – not tackling the real issue. And if an independent neurologist clears Welker, then the new league policy is a bigger joke than many have assumed for years.
Former NHL player Eric Lindros opined after his career was cut short by concussions, “The athletes are the worst advocates for this crap by not disclosing enough. Who wants to admit deficiencies and put that X on your back? Are you going to take yourself out? Because now it’s who do they have in the minors to replace you? It’s a (crappy) business in that regard.”
And this business is being run by a commissioner who puts on a concerned face, yet wants to absolve himself of any accountability to go with a group of players who will tough it out to make a few more dollars while risking long-term brain damage.
It is time for someone to sincerely take the lead on this instead of hoping the problem goes away.
My wife and I did the right thing for our son. I hope when this independent doctor evaluates Welker this week he has the courage to do the same thing.