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MORRISSEY: Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher not using his head

Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher.  |  AP file

Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. | AP file

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Updated: November 15, 2012 11:02PM



While the debate about concussions and brain safety rages across the NFL, it’s Cut Block Awareness Week for Brian Urlacher.

“I think they shouldn’t allow cut blocks because our knees are important to us too,’’ the Bears star said Thursday. “I know concussions are a big deal too, but I think cut blocks are a big deal. But that seems to be OK with the NFL. So they’re not too concerned about safety, obviously. They’re concerned about long-term concussions, but immediately, they’re not concerned about your knees or your ankles or anything like that.

“Concussions will take care of themselves. It’s a big deal now to everyone because of all the older players coming back and saying they’re all messed up now. That’s definitely an issue, but I think the cut block seems to be a big issue as well.’’

You can look at that as the ranting of a linebacker who is sick of 300-pound offensive linemen diving at his knees. Or you can look at it as representative of the way many players think: Concussions are like global warming, open to interpretation.

I’ll go with the latter.

When it comes to brain safety, Urlacher’s generation of NFL players might be unreachable. It has been taught to think of concussions as “dingers.’’ You have your “bell rung’’ and wait for the “cobwebs’’ to go away.

It’s why Urlacher reiterated Thursday that he would lie about concussion symptoms to team officials in order to stay in a game.

It’s why you walk away thinking that the guy just doesn’t get it.

Go ahead. Try to tell him there’s a big difference between a knee injury and a head injury.

“Huge, because a knee injury puts you out for a season, a concussion you may miss a game or two,’’ he said. “Big difference.’’

Yes, but long term, the damage to the brain …

“That’s why you’ve got to judge if you don’t want to play if you’re concussed,’’ he said. “Then don’t play. It’s your career. It’s your life. You have to make that decision on your own. Some guys have shut it down because of that. That’s just your value of what you put on (life) after football. If I got concussed a lot, I probably wouldn’t keep playing. But I don’t, so I’m good.’’

Urlacher’s teammate, quarterback Jay Cutler, didn’t practice Thursday and seems unlikely to play Monday night in San Francisco. The concussions he, San Francisco’s Alex Smith and Philadelphia’s Michael Vick suffered Sunday are the reasons brain injuries are again at the forefront of the discussion in the NFL. The game is hurt when quarterbacks get hurt.

The league has the truth right in front of it but seems to be suffering from selective blindness. It should approach concussions the way the NHL has done at times, with players missing long stretches of a season while waiting for their brains to heal. Or it can change the way the game is played to make it safer. It doesn’t seem ready for either.

It wants its stars in the game, and it wants to keep alive what is at the root of the public’s interest in football: bloodlust. People live for the collisions. They only abstractly understand the idea of brain trauma, until another player like former Bear Dave Duerson kills himself. That makes it real, for a while. Then they go back to oohing over the next big hit.

Players say they knew the risks when they entered the NFL. Question: Did their children know?

Bears defensive lineman Henry Melton said he’s not worried about his long-term health.

“Knock on wood, I haven’t had any head injuries,’’ he said.

If there’s one message that has come out of the brain research done over the past several years, it’s that the constant pounding of helmet on helmet -- play after play, practice after practice, game after game -- might be as damaging as a serious concussion.

At some point, parents are going to make the decision for the NFL. They won’t allow their children to play the game. That might look reactionary and alarmist now, but in 10 years, it won’t.

“There are so many rules now,’’ Urlacher said. “If they’re going to keep adding rules, why not protect us a little bit as well? They’re protecting offensive players, which I understand. … You’ve got to protect us as well. You can’t really play football if you don’t have knees.’’

You can’t feed yourself if you don’t have a brain.



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