Concussions Part of NFL Culture: Study

Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009  |  Updated 5:15 PM EDT
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Concussions Part of NFL Culture: Study

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Brian Westbrook was helped off the field after his first concussion.

In light of Brian Westbrook and other NFL stars recently suffering concussions the AP wanted to find out how honest the NFL was when it came to brain injuries.

The AP embarked on the most extensive series of interviews about concussions since the subject became a major issue this season, talking to five players on each of the 32 teams -- nearly 10 percent of the league -- seeking out a mix of positions and NFL experience to get a cross-section of players. While not a scientific sampling, many of the players answered with startling candor.

Washington Redskins kick returner Rock Cartwright remembered his brain “shaking like a bell” when he was walloped in a game against the New York Giants a few years ago.

What Cartwright never did when the hit happened? He never told Washington's medical staff his head ached.

He's not alone. Thirty of 160 NFL players surveyed by The Associated Press from Nov. 2-15 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion.

“You get back up, and things are spinning,” Giants backup QB David Carr said, “but you don't tell anyone.”

The NFL is trying to make sure honesty is the policy when it comes to concussions. The league wants players to keep tabs on each other and tell their teams if they believe someone else has a head injury.

Told of the AP's findings, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail that commissioner Roger Goodell spoke to NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith last week about “the importance of players reporting head injuries, no matter how minor they believe they might be. The commissioner said that process needs to include players observing and reporting to the team medical staff when a teammate shows symptoms of a concussion.”

What emerged from the AP's interviews was a wide-ranging, unprecedented look at the way active players think about head injuries in a world where “getting dinged” and “seeing stars” -- and the potential long-term effects of concussions -- are deemed a frightening but perhaps inevitable consequence of their job.

“Part of the game,” Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend said.

Indeed it is. In recent weeks, high-profile players Westbrook and Clinton Portis of the
Redskins -- neither of whom was surveyed by the AP – were sidelined by concussions. Westbrook missed two games, then returned Sunday, only to leave in the second half with another concussion.

The NFL’s data shows an average of one reported concussion every other game -- about 120 to 130 concussions per regular season, they said.

Of the 160 players interviewed by the AP, half said they've had at least one concussion playing football; 61 said they missed playing time because of the injury.

“The unfortunate thing in our business, more times than not, is that either guys don't know it or don't let somebody know it and continually play through those kinds of situations, where it's week after week, it's hit after hit, where they're not coming out of games and they never get healed,” said Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who's had two concussions in a 12-year NFL career. “And I think that's probably -- and I'm just guessing -- where the biggest effects are down the road, is guys that may not have a record that they had 10 concussions but probably had that or more so and just played right through it.”

Several players said they refuse to allow themselves to contemplate the dangers of their sport because it would become impossible to perform well while devoting any shred of thought to concussions.

“You could easily die in a car,” New England Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson said, “but you don't think about it, because you're focused on what you're doing.''
   
A guy like Westbrook has think about it as his season and possibly career hang on the advice of medical experts not on his play on the field.

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