Tough­ness only goes so far in con­cus­sion hits

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - FOOT­BALL BY TIM DAHLBERG THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Mark Her­zlich beat can­cer to make it to the NFL, so he knows some­thing about tough­ing things out.

He’s also suf­fered three con­cus­sions in the league, a re­minder that tough­ness only goes so far.

“Be­fore I could even tell any­one my team­mates were say­ing to get him checked out,” the Gi­ants line­backer said about his lat­est con­cus­sion, suf­fered in a hit in a Novem­ber game against the Browns. “We’re polic­ing each other.”

That, in a nutshell, is the good news about con­cus­sions in the NFL these days. Play­ers are more aware of them and there are pro­ce­dures in place that, in the­ory at least, get them off the field be­fore they suf­fer an­other hit to the head.

Ev­ery­one, it seems, is on the look­out for woozy play­ers.

“There’s been a mas­sive cul­tural change. I see it ev­ery day,” said Eric Win­ston, an of­fen­sive line­man for the Ben­gals who dou­bles as pres­i­dent of the NFL Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. “It’s chang­ing, I truly be­lieve it’s chang­ing.”

That by it­self is cause for a bit of celebration among play­ers in an era where the fright­en­ing dan­gers of CTE caused by hits to the head be­come more ap­par­ent with each dis­cov­ered case. This is a league, you might re­mem­ber, that only a few years ago was just fine with an ESPN seg­ment called “Jacked Up” that cel­e­brated the big­gest hit of the week.

“I played with a guy who won it two weeks in a row,” Win­ston said. “And that’s some­thing you don’t want to win.”

There are, of course, still bone-jar­ring hits and plenty of them in the NFL. That too many of them still come from hel­metto-hel­met hits means there is still work to be done to pro­tect player brains.

The sys­tem is also far from per­fect, as ev­i­denced by the hit to the head Mi­ami quar­ter­back Matt Moore took in the play­offs against the Steel­ers last month that left him bleed­ing from the mouth. In­stead of be­ing eval­u­ated fur­ther in the locker room as the pro­to­col now calls for, Moore was back in the game af­ter miss­ing only one play.

But as mem­bers and ex­ec­u­tives of the NFLPA held their an­nual ses­sion with the me­dia Thurs­day, they were sur­pris­ingly up­beat about the progress that has been made.

“This used to be a dif­fer­ent league,” said DeMau­rice Smith, the union’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor. “If you stum­bled to the side­line, some­body maybe pushed you back in.”

If any­one needed a re­minder of that, for­mer Com­mis­sioner Paul Tagli­abue pro­vided it this week when he apol­o­gized for com­ments he made in the 1990s when med­i­cal ex­perts and re­porters both started ask­ing ques­tions about the long-term health of con­cussed play­ers.

At the time Tagli­abue said con­cus­sions were “one of those pack jour­nal­ism is­sues.” He also claimed the num­ber of con­cus­sions “is rel­a­tively small; the prob­lem is the jour­nal­ist is­sue.”

The tim­ing was in­ter­est­ing, with Tagli­abue a fi­nal­ist for the Hall of Fame. Still, it’s never too late to say you’re sorry, even if it does no good for the play­ers whose brains were scram­bled dur­ing all those years the league turned a blind eye to head in­juries.

“I do re­gret those re­marks,” Tagli­abue said in an in­ter­view with the Talk of Fame Net­work that aired Wed­nes­day night. “Look­ing back, it was not sen­si­ble lan­guage to use to ex­press my thoughts at the time. My lan­guage was in­tem­per­ate, and it led to se­ri­ous mis­un­der­stand­ing.”

Tagli­abue’s suc­ces­sor, Roger Good­ell, also had to be dragged kick­ing and scream­ing into the con­cus­sion de­bate.

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