Thoughts on concussions and football

Published 5:16 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I was watching the ESPN show Outside the Lines with Bob Ley Tuesday at lunch and enjoyed the topic more than I thought I would.

It was on concussions in football.

Players are just now beginning to take concussion symptoms seriously. Whereas before, asking to sit out because you got hit hard made you look wimpy in a sport built on toughness, now you Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlesberger leaving the game after self-reporting concussion symptoms.

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Five years ago that would have been laughed at. Today, it’s being applauded.

New rules have been added to the college game to eject players who make helmet-to-helmet tackles. Countless studies are being conducted to determine just how serious this issue is, and how much long lasting damage it’s leaving on our favorite sports heroes.

With a movie coming out Christmas Day aptly named “Concussion” telling the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Will Smith) fighting for the NFL to recognize players are suffering from head trauma, the issue is more relevant than ever.

On the Outside the Lines interview, the real Omalu talked about performing an autopsy on legendary Steelers center Mike Webster’s brain. It’s been dubbed “the autopsy that changed football.” The NFL shut down Omalu for years, but now his research is the big focus.

When asked if he cares if it’s more important that Will Smith gets the point on concussions across or him, he waved his hand.

“It’s not about the messenger, it’s the message,” Omalu said.

I’m glad this kind of research is getting the attention it needs, but I think it ultimately needs to remain the parents’ and players’ decision to play.

I love watching this sport. I love playing it. But what I don’t want to see is the spirit of the game stripped down to almost nothing because of the potential for concussions or injury. Big hits are thrilling to watch, and even more thrilling for the players (except the one getting popped, of course). If you know the risks, and you determine the game isn’t worth it, then don’t sign up.

Player safety should be at the top of the priority list. However, instead of dumbing down the mechanics of the sport, what kids need to be trained to do is act like Roethlisberger and talk to their coach when something doesn’t feel right.