As trailers for “Concussion” are starting to appear more regularly on NFL broadcasts and on ESPN, the handling of the concussion that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered Sunday shows just how far the league’s handling of the issue during games still has to go. But it also shows that this one very high-profile player understands just what is at risk, and he delivered a powerful message about that.
A week after Case Keenum’s concussion was handled so poorly it triggered a reminder to all teams to follow the official protocol or face punishment, Roethlisberger came out of Sunday’s game against Seattle with a concussion. Roethlisberger, whose history shows a gutsy willingness to play through pain, stayed in the game after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Seahawks lineman Michael Bennett knocked him to the ground. He was helped up by teammates and played the final nine snaps of the drive before being replaced by Landry Jones. He then took himself out of the game, heading to the locker room for evaluation and entering the NFL’s protocol.
But the simple fact is that Roethlisberger, like Keenum, continued to play before taking himself out. And the NFL and NFL Players Association are asking why the spotter in the booth didn’t stop play or call for a medical timeout, ESPN reported.
Roethlisberger said the initial diagnosis was a traumatic ocular migraine that later was confirmed as a concussion after he took the ImPACT test. Roethlisberger explained what happened in his weekly 93.7 radio spot shortly after taking that test. “I did go into the protocol and took the test yesterday. Unlike when I was in school, I think I aced this one. So I should be okay to play Sunday.”
That, however, will not be up to him and by Wednesday morning he had not yet been cleared by an outside neurologist to practice later in the day.
“I don’t see any issue,” he said. “I don’t know the actual results. I think they had to send them, I think, to a third party or another doctor to look at or whatever, and they kind of make the final determining factor. But I felt good taking the tests. I felt like I was doing [accurate] responses, things like that, so I anticipate being fine and good to go.”
But Roethlisberger, one of the toughest players in the game, went on to say that as a 33-year-old father of two, he understands the stakes in a way he never did before. He knows the link between the game he loves and the dangers chronic traumatic encephalopathy pose to the the rest of his life. Maybe those “Concussion” trailers are having an effect. Certainly the announcement that the late Frank Gifford was suffering from CTE changed his thinking and he called on other players to self-report concussion symptoms during games.
“I was on the sideline thinking, ‘Do I want to go back into this game?’ I was thinking of my family, my lifestyle when I get done with football, with all these injuries … the brain is nothing to mess with,” he told 93.7. “I was literally on the sideline probably for the first time maybe in my life, thinking about my family and not going back into the game because I did not feel quite right. It was definitely a moment, that’s why I was honest with the trainers and doctors and wanted to tell them exactly what I was going through.
“I feel like I made the right [decision].
“People know me, I’ll play through any injury. I’ve played through a lot of injuries. But the brain is not an injury that you want to play with and play through. I think more people need to understand that. We play football for such a short period of time in our lives. When you’re done, you want to be a father and a husband and be the best I can be. If I have these brain injuries, it’s not worth it.”
Maybe this, no matter how imperfectly it may have come about Sunday, is where things begin to change in the NFL.