Marquis Simmons is a backup linebacker and special teams player for USC. He’s entering his redshirt junior season and doesn’t register much of a blip on the radar of big-time college football.
And yet I thought of him yesterday and realized his 15 minutes of fame moment might be able to help the growing problem of concussions in football.
I thought of Simmons yesterday because I heard the 1972 hit song, Lean on Me, by Bill Withers. During preseason camp in 2009, the USC football team made national news by adopting that song after hearing it sung by then-true freshman Simmons.
Pete Carroll was famous as USC coach for playing pranks on his team and punking them. Click here to watch as Withers actually addresses the team pretending to be an expert on locker room cleanliness.
Make sure you watch it to the end to see Simmons sing the song and how the team reacts. Amazing since none of them were born when that song was popular.
How does this help concussions?
It hit me when Withers gave a little pep talk to the team. He told them, “lean on each other. You know, it’s macho, you don’t have to give up any of your machismo if you lean on each other.”
Withers cut right to the core of the culture of football. Machismo. Leaning on others isn’t macho.
I immediately remembered the very emotional comments by ESPN's Marcellus Wiley about the suicide of his former teammate, Junior Seau.
Wiley told of how Seau would never go to the training room to get treatment because he didn’t want his teammates to see him as weak. Seau would call a private doctor to his room during camp.
Play through the pain. Don’t be weak.
Does this macho attitude cause players to ignore head injuries? In many cases, yes.
Having spoken to doctors about this issue since my daughter suffered four concussions as a softball catcher, I can tell you that the concern is repeated hits while the player is still concussed. Being hit while the brain is still healing can cause long-term damage.
“I’ve had, I believe, eight or nine recorded concussions. We’ll have another conversation after I’m done playing football,” Polamalu said. “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.”
Polamalu talked about wanting to be on the field for his brothers. Withers is saying that brothers should be more concerned about your long-term health than you getting back on the field next week. Those brothers will understand.
That’s what UCLA senior linebacker Patrick Larrimore counted on when deciding to retire from football because of repeated concussions. Last year’s most valuable Bruins defensive player has received support for his decision from UCLA coach Jim Mora, Jr.
“Football is wonderful, and it’s provided me with my life’s work, but at the end of the day these kids have to go on and live the rest of their lives,” Mora said. “It takes guts, especially at that age, to make the decision, ‘I can’t do it anymore, and if I do my long term health can be sacrificed.'”
Kudos to Larrimore for understanding and to Mora for supporting him. Football needs more of both.
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