“The bottom line is: You have to be able to put food on the table. No one’s going to sign or want a guy who can’t stay healthy. I know there will be a day when I’m going to have trouble walking. I realize that. But this is what I signed up for. Injuries are part of the game. If you don’t want to get hit, then you shouldn’t be playing.” – Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew
“You want to continue to play. You’re a competitor. You’re not going to tell on yourself. There have been times I’ve been dinged, and they’ve taken my helmet from me, and … I’d snatch my helmet back and get back on the field.” – Washington Redskins FB Mike Sellers
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if (you have) a concussion, you’re probably damaging your brain a little bit. Just like if you sprain your wrist a bunch, you’re going to have some wrist problems down the road. Yeah, I’d still play through it. It’s part of it. It’s part of the game.” – San Francisco 49ers DL Justin Smith
Professional athletes and their attitudes about injuries
These are some of the quotes from a recent Associated Press article. 44 NFL players, including one from each team, were interviewed to gauge attitudes about playing through concussions. The article reveals some scary, but unfortunately expected, insight into the players’ mindsets. It’s this attitude I feel that we need to work to change.
These quotes ironically come at a time when there are at least a dozen lawsuits involving more than 120 former players suing the NFL, according to Ken Belson of The New York Times. Among the claims of these former players is the notion that the NFL did not warn the players of the consequences of head injuries.
But the shield of claiming ignorance to the dangers of concussions is disintegrating. The seizure of Kris Dielman, the apparent lack of evaluation of Colt McCoy (Episode 17, starts at 16:44), the fines for helmet-to-helmet contact, and overall media attention to these injuries have shed plenty of light on the risks of concussions in football.
Injuries are a part of sports
I do agree with Jones-Drew that injuries are part of sports, and especially football. Yes, players know exactly what they’re getting into. I’m not advocating that we get rid of football or shut a player down forever for one headache. But I want players to realize that they need to let doctors know if they are having symptoms.
Maybe it will lead to the team doctor holding them out of that game, and yes, maybe more. But avoiding a second blow to the head before he has fully recovered might prevent a premature end to his career, or worse, permanent brain damage. And if you don’t believe me, there are several examples of our best football and hockey players that have experienced, or are currently experiencing, this problem right now.
While this column addresses concussions specifically, I would ask all athletes to keep this idea in mind when trying to play through any injury. I’m talking to you, the 12-year-old pitcher with elbow pain for 6 weeks who now has an elbow fracture. And to you, the high school senior gymnast who neglected foot pain for 6 months only to find out you have a stress fracture just as the season starts.
Get pain checked out
To all athletes: If you have pain, get it checked out. So many athletes resist going to the doctor for fear of being shut down from sports, or worse, fear of needing surgery. But most sports injuries actually don’t need surgery. And despite what you think, sports medicine doctors generally don’t want to shut you down. We want you playing and competing for titles. Having your injury evaluated might get you back playing sooner and with less fear of worsening the problem.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m writing. I love sports. I think sports have tremendous benefits for all athletes – professional to little league, male or female, young or old. These benefits obviously include health improvements, but there are emotional and socialization benefits as well. I just want athletes healthy enough to actually play them.
“I’ll probably pay for it later in my life, but at the same time, I’ll probably pay for the alcohol that I drank or driving fast cars. It’s one of those things that it just comes with the territory.” – St. Louis Rams safety Quintin Mikell
It’s time to change these attitudes.
Note: The following post appears in my sports medicine column in the January 4, 2012 issue of The Post and Courier.