Dave Duerson Concussion Findings Cannot Be Ignored
Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson's suicide note said that he shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied. The study showed that Duerson had a moderately advanced case of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Boxers would call this "punch-drunk syndrome." Chris Henry, Merril Hoge, and Terry Bradshaw are all people I know who have had major issues related to concussions. There is also no question that my memory isn't what it used to be, but how do you know if it is related to football or just aging? You don't. From a liability and survival of the game stand-point, I am sure this is an issue the league enjoys discussing about as much as the CBA. But, just as the CBA is now a part of the NFL, so are concussions.
The league is going to standardized testing for evaluating concussion symptoms on the field and giving doctors final say whether a player will be allowed to continue. If the doctor determines the player is a "No Go" then that player is escorted to the locker room and will not be available to the media after the game. As many of you know, the triangular relationship between the player, team, and doctor is one that I have questioned. Medical decisions should be made between a doctor and his or her patient. Unfortunately, it would be tough for each player to have his own doctor on the field for every game, so team doctors are hired. Even top quality team doctors have built-in pressures to allow players to play as soon as possible. I am confident that team doctors believe they always make the decision that is in the best interest of the player, but when the team is the one that decides who the team doctor will be, the third prong of that relationship cannot be denied. I always ruffle feathers with that comment, but believe me, it is something that players talk about. The greatest marketing tool any doctor can have is being the "Team Doctor" for an NFL team. (For example: If my son needed knee surgery, I would want to know who operated on Carson Palmer for the Bengals and consider him for that surgery. The assumption being that the Bengals have researched the top doctors in town). If I owned an NFL franchise, I would want the players to have a "Player's Doctor" on the sideline as well. If those two doctors concurred on medical decisions, my liability would be reduced.
The other area of improvement has to come in helmet design. I have had physicists tell me that their should be a hard shell, then an outer layer of padding, and another hard shell. Would it reduce concussions? I don't know, but I am told that nobody could deny that it would reduce the force of the hit.
Rule changes are another possibility. Some on the worst semi-concussions (I know, no such thing) I received came from two different tackles. First, from having my arms pinned by a tackler and driven back on the turf. When you are driven backwards and driven into the ground, your head whips to the turf. I see it every week in the NFL. Currently quarterbacks cannot be driven into the ground, perhaps that rule should be extended to all defenseless players. By the end of my career, I knew when a whip-like concussion was coming in mid-tackle. There was nothing that I could do about it. The second concussion causing tackle for wide receivers comes from being flipped. I will never understand why the NFL lets defensive backs undercut receivers leaping for a pass. It is an intentional act that will lead to a very serious injury or death one day. The tackle is an easy one to make when a player is in the air. Intentional flipping of defenseless players is inexcusable and should lead to ejection.
Having two sons currently playing high school and college football, I have a vested interest in this topic. I believe the NFL is serious about making positive changes on the concussion issue. The more it is discussed the better. Maybe some of those new ideas will originate here. I hope so.