With each passing week, I hear from football fans saying that it’s getting harder to like the game they love. They’ve spent years reveling in the intense competition and violent collisions so central to the sport, but this is the first time these NFL diehards feel conscious about what happens to players when they become unconscious.
In August, to much fanfare, NFL owners finally acknowledged that football-related concussions cause depression, dementia, memory loss and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Now that they’ve opened the door, this concussion discussion is starting to shape how we understand what were previously seen as the NFL’s typical helping of off-field controversy and tragedy. When Denver Bronco wide receiver Kenny McKinley committed suicide, the first questions were about whether football-related head injuries led to the depression that took his life. When the recently retired Junior Seau drove his car off of a cliff the day after being arrested for spousal abuse, questions about whether head injuries sustained during a twenty-year career affected his actions, soon followed. Such conjecture is not only legitimate; it’s necessary and urgent.
This season a typical NFL game is starting to look like a triage center. On concussions alone, a reader at deadspin.com compiled the following list of players who have borne the brunt of a brain bruise in 2010:
PRESEASON: Ryan Grant, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Joseph Addai, Mark Clayton, Nick Sorensen, Aaron Curry, DJ Ware, Louis Murphy, Scott Sicko, Mike Furrey, Darnell Bing, Freddy Keiaho
WEEK 1: Kevin Kolb, Stewart Bradley, Matt Moore, Kevin Boss, Charly Martin
WEEK 2: Clifton Ryan, Jason Witten, Randall Gay, Craig Dahl, Zack Follett, Evan Moore
WEEK 3: Anthony Bryant, Cory Redding, Jason Trusnik
WEEK 4: Jordan Shipley, Willis McGahee, Jay Cutler, Asante Samuel, Riley Cooper, Sherrod Martin
WEEK 5: Aaron Rodgers, Darcy Johnson, Jacob Bell, Landon Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Rocky McIntosh
WEEK 6: Josh Cribbs, Desean Jackson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Zack Follett, Chris Cooley
In assessing the list, the most striking aspect is its randomness. There is a mix of star quarterbacks, shifty running backs, burly tight ends and anonymous linemen. All play different roles in the game, and all wear different kinds of equipment.
Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, after a weekend where he says he saw "six or eight shots where you wondered, ‘Is that guy getting up?’ " proposed some solutions: "It’s time to start ejecting and suspending players for flagrant hits…. Don’t tell me this is the culture we want. It might be the culture kids are used to in video games, but the NFL has to draw a line in the sand right here, right now, and insist that the forearm shivers and leading with the helmet and launching into unprotected receivers will be dealt with severely. Six-figure fines. Suspensions. Ejections.