When Jay Cutler went down after a helmet-to-helmet blow and stayed in the game against the Texans, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth paid him homage, calling Cutler, “a real Bears quarterback.” He added that a review of the play would give Cutler a chance to “clear the cobwebs” before action resumed.
Isn’t it beautiful how the education and new-found sensitivity just sinks in and makes such a difference?
You can institute all the safety measures you want, pay all the independent neurologists to clear concussed quarterbacks to play again. You can pay off former players who in their lawsuit claim the NFL didn’t protect them with what the league knew about head injuries — some of whom slur their words and can’t remember their wives’ names. You can even make all the changes you want at the youth levels, ban every Bull in the Ring drill from Oklahoma Pop Warner fields to eternity.
But we get nowhere if the culture on NFL fields can’t change, if the language of “shake it off” and “dinged” is allowed to continue.
I met Robert Cantu last week at a concussion roundtable in Dupont Circle moderated by ESPN’s Tom Farrey. Among other titles, Cantu is the co-director of Boston University’s Center For the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is the same disease found in the brains of numerous NFL players, a condition born from concussions. Cantu is also adviser to the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee and the co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, an organization dedicated to addressing the concussion crisis through research, treatment, education and prevention.
Through extensive research and case study, this is what the main authority on the issue has determined: Kids under 14 years old shouldn’t tackle each other with pads and helmet.
“Youngsters are not miniature adults,” Cantu said. “Youngsters’ brains are more susceptible to the cytotoxic shock of concussions and as a group they tend to recover more slowly. Youngsters have big heads on weak necks, and that ‘bobble-head doll’ effect puts them at greater risk than it puts an adult.”
This is what Cantu essentially heard back from the heads of our nation’s youth football leagues at the roundtable: “Are you crazy? Pop Warner parents will find their own independent leagues. We’ll all go out of business.”
No one was actually that honest. But after you whittled through the discourse, after many more platitudes about safety concerns were voiced, what you got was not a moral or ethical question about whether kids that young should bump helmets. Instead, an economic question emerged: Could we afford to sell only flag football to almost 3 million kids?