Head Game: What would you do if concussed?
Sunday's Viking game was like a swift kick in the gut for Purple fans. Of course, any suffering incurred by Minnesota viewers during the Vikings loss to Arizona surely pales in comparison to the pain experienced by middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who broke his left leg in gruesome fashion in the fourth quarter of the Purple's 30-17 loss to the Cardinals.
Henderson's unfortunate injury served as a blunt and disturbing reminder of how incredibly violent football at the highest levels can be. And while his detriment may not ultimately be the stuff of medical journals, the injury occurs at a time when the NFL's handling of their fallen -- specifically those having suffered from or evidencing symptoms of concussions -- is under scrutiny from the highest levels of both American government and medicine.
In October, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appeared at an oft-heated hearing in Washington concerning the league's policies toward concussions. Before Congress, Goodell would not recognize a link between head injuries suffered in his sport, and brain diseases diagnosed in later years by those that played pro football. Goodell's lack of acknowledgement of a connection therein was exercised despite an NFL-commissioned study by the University of Michigan which found that former pro ballers are 19 times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia than the rest of the general population.
Weeks after the hearings, an Associated Press survey of 160 current players found about 10 percent of NFLers replying that they had hidden or masked a concussion at some juncture during their playing career. About 50 percent replied that they had experienced a concussion during their playing career, while 38 percent said that had missed playing time because of a concussion. To see the entire survey, please click here.
Goodell's silence didn't last long. Amidst a recent shakeup of the NFL's medical power structure, last week the Commissioner instituted new guidelines for the league's policy on head injuries. Where as before (dating to 2007), NFL players were restricted from returning to the field upon losing consciousness, now, players are now required to remain off the practice or game field on a day they display strong signs of being concussed. Among other additions to the league's new rules pertaining to head injuries, the guidelines state that each team will be required to have the injured player evaluated by an independent neurologist or neurosurgeon.
In the near future, additional reforms to both monitor and manage head injuries are anticipated. Among them: improved equipment (i.e., helmets, mouthguards), practices with hitting restrictions, more magnified NFL rules to protect ball-carries, and technological advances that can provide brain scan readings via a sensor in a player's ear canal.
Now --with what has been laid out here, gentle reader, let me get to what is the titular inquiry of this article:
What would you do?
What would you do if you were a marginal players in one of the world's most competitive professions that sees the average career-length at 3.5 seasons*, and you suffered a concussion?
To paint the scene further:
Your livelihood is your life -- you've been training for this job since the age of eight. The likelihood that you attended college is very high, although the chances that you'll ever find a high-paying job are extremely low (average NFL salary*: $1.1 million per season). There are countless individuals waiting in line for your job, and it's a job oft-defined by toughness and the ability to endure pain.
You're 25 years old. You're in the NFL, the country's most popular and profitable sport. You suffer a concussion at the onset of a game, but come the second half, although still somewhat off-balance, you feel composed enough to play. You've heard the stories, read the papers -- reports that say each year of pro football takes about 3 years off your life span; yarns of former players who need help going to the bathroom; stories of retired guys not that much older than you who suffer from sleep deprivation and sensitivity to light.
Your coach comes up to you as the players filter from the locker room and back onto the field.
What do you say?
*Source: NFL Player's Association
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