Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why Do Football Fans Care More About Rahim Moore's Fine Than Donald Jones' Concussion?

Do the fans actually care about the players? Or do they simply want to see big-time bone-crushing that separate players' heads from their bodies as if they're a character in Street Fighter?  

Living in Denver, I was subject to the opinion of many, many fans on the subject of the Broncos' Rahim Moore's hit on the Buffalo Bills' Donald Jones last Saturday in their preseason game.  Fans came down divided on both sides of whether the hit was to the head or not.  

I have no doubt that Moore's intention was not to hurt Jones, and he obviously learned a valuable lesson in how to approach a receiver in a position like that.  I'm not going to debate whether the $20,000 fine he got was justified or not.

What bothers me most is that the majority of the really vocal fans are once again missing the point of why there are now fines like this in the first place.  I can guarantee you that many of these fans that think Moore made a good football play are not lying awake tonight, wondering how Jones' brain is doing.  They're instead more worried about the guy who wasn't injured on the play and how they think he was unjustly fined.

(By the way, right now Jones is thankfully feeling pretty good, if his tweets (@DaJones19) are any indication.  Hopefully, he'll be back playing as soon as the doctors clear him.  Also, hopefully, he doesn't suffer any more concussions this year.)

What does that say about us as football fans, that we dismiss the injury of one and lament the fine of another? Do we truly care so little about the players we purport to love and cheer for that when they're hurt, we dismiss their injury? I would contend that we do care about the injury if it's a torn ACL or a severely pulled hamstring, but when it's something that's harder to see evidence of (a concussion), we tend to dismiss it.

A concussion is an injury to the brain.  It's trauma and damage that can (and usually does) result in loss of an unknown number of neurons (cells) in the brain.  It's difficult to diagnose at times (standard testing such as MRI/ct scans won't show the damaged tissues), and can even more difficult to know when it's okay to allow an athlete to subject themselves to contact again.  

Complicating the issue is that multiple concussions are not separate events the way that trashing your right ACL is different from your left.  If Donald Jones sustains another concussion at some point, even more neurons are lost.  It is thought now that concussions can stack upon one another, if they are not identified and treated properly.  

Certainly, the thought is these repeated concussions are the main trigger for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that has been identified in the brains of several dead NFL players of many ages (Chris Henry, Dave Duerson).  Their brains, in their 40's and 50's resembles the brains of people twice their age with Alzheimer's because of the degenerative changes seen.

Considering how much faster, bigger, and stronger present-day NFL players are, will we only have to wait 15-20 years to start hearing about the deaths, chronic depression, or dementia of Ray Lewis, James Harrison, and many other hard-hitting NFL stars of today? 

We're seeing CTE now because we're looking for it, and we're identifying concussions now at a much higher rate than ever because we're looking for them.  We care about this now because we've only just begun to recognize how big of a problem it could be.

Austin Collie After One Of His Three Concussions in 2010
The bottom line of this blog post is this: do the fans care?  Have they noticed that sights like the ones pictured above are becoming more and more common in today's NFL?  Do they care if their favorite players might be depressed for years after they retire because they're suffering from the effects of multiple concussions sustained during their playing careers?  

The NFL has been lucky so far in that no one has suffered a major brain injury on the field to the point of being permanently mentally incapacitated or dead.  It could definitely happen in today's game with the "big hit" playing style that has been celebrated over the years.  Perhaps they do know how lucky they are and that is why they've tried to curtail some of the more vicious hitting that has been filling the game as of late.  

There's obviously a lot more to say on this topic (and there will be more posts about this in the future), and you're welcome to add a comment as long as you're civil.  

If you're intrigued to know more about this topic, check out The Concussion Blog.  You can start here to read a post about why we need to solve this concussion issue to save football.  

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