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Players who ignore NFL’s concussion problem need their heads examined

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has said he’d lie about concussisymptoms rather than risk missing games. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has said he’d lie about concussion symptoms rather than risk missing games. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 16, 2012 8:15AM

You won’t hear many current
NFL players admitting they’re concerned about the long-term effects of concussions. You won’t find many linebackers saying, ‘‘I think I’ll cut back on the unspeakable violence from now on.’’

It’s almost understandable. Race-car drivers don’t go around (and around) thinking about dying in a fiery crash. Worrying about what might happen can affect how you perform now. Elite athletes live in the moment, and many of them live in a dream world where the moment will last forever.

It’s why Falcons receiver Roddy White has been ripping former players who have had the audacity to question the safety of the sport.

‘‘It’s crazy how football players are killing our game you signed up to play a violent game and made a lot of money now you talk bad about,’’ he tweeted.

And . . .

‘‘I love playing football if I cant walk when im 50 it was well
worth it.’’

There needs to be more research on head trauma and
run-on sentences. In the meantime, we can study the mad rush to protect the game. You expect that from the NFL, a huge corporation trying to protect its product. You expect it from current players, who don’t want to ponder a future that might include involuntary drooling.

You don’t expect it from former players, but it’s happening. Former Giants receiver Amani Toomer blasted Kurt Warner after the ex-quarterback said he would prefer that his sons not play football because of the concussion risks. ESPN’s Merril Hoge was upset with Warner, too.

‘‘I think it’s irresponsible and unacceptable,’’ said Hoge, whose career ended because of concussions. ‘‘He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated. . . . Head trauma is not the issue here; it’s how head trauma is treated. The game is safer than it has ever been because we’re being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue.’’

Hoge and White seem to be coming from the same place: If you made a nice living off the game, shut up. But that’s not an argument; it’s hush money.

A lot of people have a lot invested in football, both financially and emotionally. They see their game being pulled down by incomplete research.

It’s a head-in-the-sand attitude reminiscent of the reaction to the dramatic spike in baseball’s power numbers during the 1990s. People didn’t want to see that steroids had taken over the game, choosing instead to concentrate on whether the baseballs were juiced. That looks foolish now, doesn’t it?

The truth gets the cold shoulder in these situations.

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher has said he’d lie about concussion symptoms rather than risk missing games. It’s not a stretch to say that many other players would do the same.

I’ve asked parents of college players whether they’re concerned about their sons’ health. Some say they are but wouldn’t try to stop their children from chasing a dream. That’s what the wife of ESPN’s Mike Golic said about their two sons, who play at Notre Dame: The kids have worked so hard that it would be wrong to stand in their way.

I’ve had other parents tell me that avoiding concussions is a matter of playing smart, that there’s a way of hitting and being hit that cuts down on the chances of head trauma.

And, of course, there are the Toomers of the world, who see no evil and would prefer if you didn’t speak it.

It’s one thing to have a big, fast high school player who purportedly can take care of himself. It’s another to have a 7-year-old with big eyes and a sweet smile who runs onto the field in pads as big as he is.

That’s where this issue will turn. Mothers and fathers are going to step in. A recent study showed that some of the head hits youth players absorb are as severe as the hits college players take, mostly because younger players lack neck strength.

Am I being alarmist? I hope so. Better to err on the side of overreaction than on the side of neglect.

How many parents heard about the suicides of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson and plan on banning their children from the gridiron? Do you think they’ll wait for more testing results before deciding? Or do you think they suddenly will find soccer to be endlessly entertaining?

We used to watch NFL games because players could do things we couldn’t do. Now we watch because players do things we wouldn’t want to do.

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