Just less than three minutes were left. Tom Brady was under center. Rob Gronkowski was on the right end of the line. Shane Vereen was in the backfield. Most importantly, Julian Edelman was lined up out wide to the left. Brady took the snap and used his God-like arm to fire a gorgeous three-yard back-shoulder strike to Edelman for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX. Amazing play. Amazing finish. Amazing game. Amazing season.
But do you remember what happened eight minutes before that? I do. Most people who were watching the game do. All the players and coaches in the game do. But you know who probably doesn’t? Julian Edelman.
Edelman was laid out by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor after a 21-yard catch with less than 11 minutes left. He was absolutely destroyed. Edelman tried to stay on his feet and continue running after the helmet-to-helmet hit, but he looked more like a driver who drank a little (way) too much being tested by police than a football player trying to make a play.
Even Edelman’s own teammate Brandon LaFell said after the game that he “thought [Edelman] was going to go to sleep the way that he was running.”
Edelman managed to stay awake long enough to give the Patriots their fourth Super Bowl win in the 21st century.
Although Edelman supposedly cleared the NFL’s protocol by passing a concussion test before he returned to action, the situation is a microcosm of a larger issue in sports.
Leagues, coaches, players and even fans just don’t care about concussions, and they don’t care about the health impacts that concussions have on athletes’ post-career lives.
There is more to these players’ lives than a 10 to 15-year sports career, and sooner or later we need to realize that.
The NFL has done the most of any league or sport to address the issue by creating a concussion protocol — although any changes that have been made were only after harsh public scrutiny that stemmed from complete ignorance on the NFL’s behalf of any ongoing problems with its players and concussions — but no organization has done enough to fix the problem.
In soccer, FIFA has an online Pocket Concussion Recognition Tool that helps to determine if a player has a concussion. These tools provide “visible clues of suspected concussion,” which include “loss of consciousness or responsiveness, lying motionless on ground and dazed, blank or vacant look.”
We need a pocket manual to recognize that a player might have a concussion if he/she is lying motionless on the ground? Well, it’s at least something. FIFA also provides a list of “signs and symptoms of suspected concussion” and questions to test “memory function.”
It may seem as though FIFA is making an attempt to solve concussion problems in soccer; however, it only provides suggestions, not mandates. There is no mandatory policy for requirements to allow a player to return to a game after suffering a blow to the head, which is probably why a class action lawsuit was filed against FIFA in August 2014 charging the association with being negligent in dealing with head injuries.
Countless times in recent memory, I’ve been watching a soccer game in which two players go up for a header and instead headbutt each other. They lay on the ground in obvious pain, sometimes with gashes on their foreheads. When the team doctors or trainers have the players sit up, they sway around like it’s the end of the night on their 21st birthday.
Then, of course, the players’ heads are bandaged like mummies and they continue playing like nothing happened. Or they ironically score a game-winning or tying goal on a header later in the game, like Martin Škrtel did for Liverpool in December (Škrtel actually had his head stapled after the game to help the large laceration heal).
The same issues are present in the NHL, where the rules for removing a player due to concussion are so laid back that players are constantly playing through head injuries.
Leagues and coaches have never prioritized protecting their players. The NFL may say that player safety is a priority, and yet it schedules Thursday night games that only give players four days to let their bodies heal.
There shouldn’t be a stigma surrounding concussions. It shouldn’t be a bad thing for a player to say he/she has a concussion. And it certainly shouldn’t be a tough decision for a coach to take out a player in a big game when he/she have obvious symptoms of a head injury. More needs to be done to address the immediate and long-term health of athletes, and it needs to be done now.
On top of that, however, is the fact that athletes are too stubborn and “tough” to remove themselves from a game when they feel the symptoms of a concussion.
That brings me to my final point.
Athletes: Don’t be idiots. You have lives. You have families. You have millions and millions of dollars to spend on things you don’t need. Don’t risk all that just to come back and play in one game. The potential permanent mental health effects are too severe and the risk of losing future paychecks would be too devastating.
But what were we talking about? Some football game? Julian who? I forgot.