NFL faces uphill battle on concussions

Posted Sept. 22, 2010 @ 2:56 a.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

The Eagles faced criticism throughout the week for allowing QB Kevin Kolb to re-enter the game vs. the Packers after he suffered a concussion when his head hit the ground as he was being sacked by Packers OLB Clay Matthews in the season opener.

That Kolb was allowed to play after taking the hit is troubling.

Shouldn't the fact that he was wearing a helmet released in 1988 during the game be a concern, as well?

Kolb was reportedly wearing Schutt Sports' Pro-Air II, which doesn't have all the modern technology that is included in other helmets that have been released in recent years.

Of course, it's still possible to get a concussion even with newer helmets. Kolb's was up to industry standards. Advances supposedly have been made to better protect players, but when massive athletes are running into each other at full speed, or getting their heads pushed into the ground, bad things, like concussions, are going to happen, unfortunately.

But why wouldn't a player wear the newest helmet available to protect his brain?

Glenn Beckmann, Schutt's marketing communications director, told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week that players may choose not to wear a more up-to-date helmet because of comfort or superstition. Or, he said, it might have something to do with how it looks.

"The first thing [players] do is they go look and see what it looks like in the mirror," Beckmann said. "The top complaint about larger helmets is that players think it makes their heads look big.

"They don't like the way it looks, so they won't wear it," he said.

When you couple players' concerns about wearing a strange-looking helmet with Eagles ORT Winston Justice's recent admission that he has heard very few of his teammates even utter the word "concussion" because of the stigma attached to the injury, it's hard not to wonder if proponents for brain safety are fighting a battle they can't win. Unlike other injuries, there is no defined timetable for how long it takes to recover from a concussion, which in many cases serves as a deterrent for players considering whether to tell someone they are dealing with symptoms of a concussion.

Those players who don't want to wear a certain helmet because of how it looks probably won't be any more likely to report concussions after they hear about what happened to Bears LB Hunter ­Hillenmeyer last week. Hillenmeyer, who describes himself as someone in the forefront of player advocacy of concussion awareness, was placed on injured reserve after one game because he was still dealing with the effects of a concussion he sustained in the third preseason game.

He may have been able to play again this year if given another week or two to recover, but the Bears decided not to take any risks. Hillenmeyer said he had mixed feelings about the decision. Some players aren't going to want to increase their chances of landing on injured reserve by reporting a concussion that they can hide.

The NFL can talk about making progress on the concussion issue all it wants, but the power of the players' fear of looking weird while wearing a different helmet or looking weak for reporting the injury is going to be hard to overcome.

 

Check out the Sept. 26 print edition of PFW for a cover story on the Bengals' "Batman-Robin" WR duo of Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, a profile of outspoken Cardinals DL Darnell Dockett and much more. You can purchase a copy at retail outlets everywhere or online at PFWstore.com.