Detroit Lions and Best Need to Put His Long-Term Health Above the Game
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Jahvid Best might not play a snap preseason. He might not play for some time. He's not cleared for contact yet.
Even if he is cleared, the Lions should seriously consider telling him no.
This morning, Twitter went crazy with quotes from GM Marty Mayhew about what is going on with Best. The bulk of the quotes are in a piece by David Birkett in the Detroit Free Press.
The key to this is, Best could be ready in a week, he could be ready in a month, he could be ready never—in other words, we have no idea.
Birkett further tweeted the following:
When 20 doctors are gathered to discuss your case—that's not good.
Now as I have said before, they could just be overly cautious in a very extreme way. However, I have a hard time buying it, especially after all the discussion in May and June that he was coming back.
A colleague of mine at Footballguys.com, Dr. Jene Bramel, wrote a bit about this today on his blog, Bramel's Second Opinion.
In it, he says the following:
I’m not certain I can reconcile the implication that a committee of 20 specialists remain unwilling to clear Best for contact after nine months, but that there’s still confidence that clearance will come within days. If Best is still experiencing symptoms—even very subtle symptoms—concerning for post-concussion syndrome, there’s no predicting when those symptoms will resolve and there’s no definite timetable for his return.
In short, you should read “eventually” as “we’ve no idea.”
By the way, Dr. Bramel is mainly a pediatrician with emergency department, urgent care and primary care experience. He's also a certified athletic trainer and provides sideline coverage as a team physician for a high school football team. He's seen the results of concussions up close.
The problem for me is similar to the issue Bramel raises later in his piece: If they do clear him, what changed after all this caution?
If the team isn't overreacting, if this isn't just some hyper-cautious maneuvering by both the player and team, if there really is something wrong, I would consider shutting him down.
Listen, I hear the argument that these guys are grown men who make the choice to risk long-term damage for big money and fabulous prizes. Far be it from me to keep them from that.
It's like what that kid told Det. McNulty in the first episode of The Wire: "You got to. This is America."
On the other hand, there is something to be said from preventing your employees from hurting themselves.
There is a line—the NFL has been working on one at least—of responsibility. We watched it solidify a bit when Colt McCoy was tossed back out to the wolves with a concussion that was evident to everyone but the coaching staff of the Browns.
If the Lions know he's wonky and throw him out there anyway, aren't they culpable in any long-term injury? Isn't this what the litigation the league is dealing with now from ex-players is all about?
Further, isn't there a responsibility beyond mere financial (for example, a lawsuit) concerns?
Hell, ask Troy Polamalu, Curtis Martin and Emmitt Smith, all of whom said they lied and masked concussion symptoms all the time.
Polamalu started it when he said on The Dan Patrick Show that he thinks most NFL players have had between 50 to 100 concussions and that of course he'd lied to get back into a game (he didn't say that specifically about concussions, but you do the math).
Meanwhile, here's Smith in an interview with NBC Sportstalk, repeated on NFL.com:
When Smith was asked about Polamalu's admission that he's lied about head injuries to stay in games, the Hall of Fame running back said he'd do the same.
"Oh, most definitely," Smith told NBC SportsTalk, per ProFootballTalk.com. "At the end of the day, if I can make it happen, I'm going to make it happen. I'm going to do what I have to do."
And Curtis Martin had this to say to ESPN:
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Martin said he’s not overly concerned about his long-term health, but he admitted he suffered “a lot” of concussions during his career. He recalled being knocked out a few times, once after a blow to the head by Denver Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski in the 1998 AFC Championship Game, but he usually went back to the huddle.
“I became an expert at covering it up,” he said, noting that his teammates knew to help him up if he didn’t immediately bounce to his feet after a tackle.
Players want to play—you don't get to the NFL by sitting on the sideline. Even in today's "kinder, gentler" NFL, guys are expected to shake it off. Just ask Colt McCoy.
Best is going to do everything he can to get on the field. Everything. I can't blame him for that. Who could?
I can't blame the Lions for wanting him on the field. However, it may not be in his best interest to allow it.
Listen, Adrian Peterson wants to play right now, but the Vikings are not allowing it. He believes with all his being he can go, but they feel a responsibility—to him, to the team, to the long-term health of both—to be cautious.
The same thing happened with Nick Collins and his back with the Packers (something I have talked about in relation to Best before). They had to make a decision to let an All-Pro safety go because to let him play was irresponsible.
I applaud that.
Just as I would applaud the Lions if they looked at Best's struggles to get on the field—struggles which have taken nine months and still bear no fruit—and made the decision that it was too much risk.
I hope the entire situation is just blown way out of proportion, that the team is just being super-careful given his concussion history. I really do. I think he's an exciting player, and from what I understand, he's a good guy. He makes the Lions more fun to watch.
If not, I hope the Lions and Best do the right thing and put his health above the game.
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