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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Head Games

This morning, George Vescey - a writer predisposed to speak poorly of football, I think - made reference to a report in yesterday's Times about the Jets and head injuries. His usual blarney about "Why are we trying to make athletes into role models" interested me less than the fact that he seemed to suggest that the Jets were hiding something.

Which is a little bit of a surprise. We know they're not hiding a secret for sustained winning. It's about injuries, and while the normally suspicious New York media already has had a special axe to grind with the almost morbidly silent Eric Mangini, apparently the matter is more serious than any of that. We know that the Jets organization does not allow players to talk about their own injuries to the media. Specifically, however, there are serious concerns about the way that the Jets handle matters of concussive injury.

Certainly in the NFL the problem is not the Jets' alone, yet the Jets' insistence on silence is complicated by the presence of their own physician. New York Times writer Alan Schwarz said Elliot Pellman, who oversees much of the team's health, has been a supportive of a less careful approach to concussion injuries within the team and around the NFL. Schwarz writes that "Dr. Pellman, until recently, led the National Football League’s commission on concussions, and he has been criticized by many medical experts for playing down the effects of concussions and for clearing players to return to the field too soon." The fact that Pellman is the primary consultant to a team with a history of losing receivers with Hall of Fame caliber, such as Al Toon and Wayne Chrebet, should give any Jets fan concern. Each of them retired because of compounded concussion injuries.

The article mentions the extraordinary losses Wayne Chrebet has felt to his ability to remember things. His permanent losses to his long-term and short-term memory since he left the Jets in 2005 have had a tremendous effect on his overall sense of well-being. Presently, Laveranues Coles has been affected by concussive injury, and while he has been sitting out the rest of this season for such injury, Schwarz reminds us that this was not the case late last year when, even after Coles suffered a serious concussion, the Jets still used him as a decoy against the Raiders as they tried to acquire a playoff spot. Crippling injuries are as common to football as they are in Rollerball, but the loss of one's mind in football is slightly different. As Schwarz points out, Pellman's lax attitude toward concussions - and Mangini's imposition of player silence on injuries - are characteristic of the entire NFL's (and the Players' Association's) attitude toward this same issue, even when generations of retired players are experiencing the same kind of long-term effects as those felt by Wayne Chrebet.

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