Troy Polamalu Admits to Hiding Concussions, a Sadly Common Occurrence

Andrea HangstFeatured Columnist IVJuly 19, 2012

Troy Polamalu has admitted to eight or nine concussions during his professional career, but the true number is likely higher.
Troy Polamalu has admitted to eight or nine concussions during his professional career, but the true number is likely higher.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu admitted on The Dan Patrick Show on Wednesday that he's suffered far more concussions than he's officially reported to his team, echoing sentiments that other players have shared, even as the NFL works hard to eliminate such things from happening as a way to protect the players.

Though over 2,400 former players are currently suing the league because of the concussions they received without adequate—or accurate—information on how it would affect their future quality of life, current players are still reluctant to report when they've suffered a head injury, with the immediate costs of being taken out of a game weighing more heavily than how it could affect their futures.

It's a baffling sentiment, but one that is very common. Polamalu isn't entirely breaking new ground with these comments, and they very clearly reflect the difficulties that arise from the league's attempt to help better ensure player safety.

Polamalu's reasoning for hiding his injuries is thus: First, Polamalu notes that a true, serious concussion isn't something that he's lied about or that anyone should, adding, "During concussions, if it's serious enough, you can't even be conscious enough to lie."

Second, he relates the head injury to having suffered a knee injury in a game: "Somebody may say, 'Is your knee messed up?' It may be kind of messed up but you just kind of push yourself to be out there with your brothers."

Polamalu distinguishes between the kinds of concussions that practically knock players out cold to instances of getting one's "bell rung." The latter is the type of injury that the league would like players to report to their coaches and medical staff and is the kind of thing that Polamalu (and likely many other players) is reluctant to divulge.

He says, "When you get your bell rung, they consider that a concussion—I wouldn't. ... If that is considered a concussion, I'd say any football player at least records 50 to 100 concussions a year."

That kind of thinking ultimately lines up with the notion that any player who stays off the field because of what is, to them, a routine part of the game is a weak teammate, someone who isn't tough and isn't willing to continue to push himself to bring his team a win.

Polamalu himself admitted this to Patrick: "There's so much built up about team camaraderie and sacrifice, and football is such a tough-man's game."

The league can employ as many safety measures as it wants, and it can try to hammer home to the players that this type of mentality is ultimately damaging both to themselves and to the sport, but it's such an ingrained sentiment that things are not likely to change any time soon.

The difference between today's players and the scores who are suing the league is information—the men taking the field in 2012 are all aware of the inherent risks of playing football, from concussions to knee injuries, from a lifetime of back pain to the potential of severe cerebral deterioration in later years.

They weigh this against what it means to be playing the game now—the accolades, the chance, however brief, to make a good sum of money to protect their families for years to come, the very joy of just playing football for a living—and are able to make an informed decision about how they choose to spend their days.

This doesn't make the sport any less dangerous than it's ever been, and it doesn't make it any less dangerous to conceal an injury to remain on the field. A major way to protect the players' futures is to protect them from themselves in the present—but unless the players comply with this message, it doesn't really matter.

One of the league's biggest challenges in player safety is finding ways to rectify this line of thinking with the important goal of keeping those who have suffered head injuries on the sidelines. The process involves more than just commissioner Roger Goodell and his medical advisors; it involves the coaching staffs, training staffs and the players themselves.

But without that last piece in place, there is only so much the league can truly do to keep players safe. That's the major takeaway from Polamalu's comments—the league and many players have different ideas of what is "for their own good," and the two may never truly overlap.