Jahvid Best's Concussion Situation Represents the NFL's Newest Problem

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Jahvid Best's Concussion Situation Represents the NFL's Newest Problem
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The worst thing to hit the NFL since steroids—and the Seattle Seahawks' uniforms—is something that the league doesn’t appear ready to contend with.

The irony is that it’s actually been prevalent in the NFL since the days of leather helmets, though it was all a family secret and not really discussed.

The concussion is soon to be the bane of arguably the most popular team sport in America, and those of other contact sports.

There really is no mystery why concussions are being talked about with growing frequency in the NFL.

Every Sunday (and Monday, and sometimes Wednesday and occasionally Thursday), the league’s slate of games is filled with collisions between freight trains. The matches aren’t played at NFL Films speed, so you know.

Those slow motion reels of film have done a wonderful job in making NFL action appear majestic and beautiful, which it can be. But the Sabol family’s NFL is played at one-quarter speed, and the hits are antiseptic and the brutality can’t really be seen or felt.

Stand on the sidelines and watch, in real time. The games take on a totally different look and feel.

The league today is filled with giants who play the game at turbo speed. Even the quarterbacks are big men. It stands to reason that when these behemoths meet going full bore, heads are going to get shaken like a baby’s rattle.

Jahvid Best is what the future of the NFL looks like.

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Best, the Lions’ fireball of a running back, has the potential to be the most spectacular playmaker in the team’s backfield since those two No. 20s carried the football back in the day. But potential can be such a sad word in sports.

The Lions start another autumn of pro football this Sunday, but Best will be reduced to the role of cheerleader—something he’s getting used to, ever since suffering yet another concussion, his third documented one (college and pro), last October against the San Francisco 49ers.

Best has been shelved for at least the first six weeks of the season due to caution about his 2011 concussion, making it about one full year that a concussion will have taken him out of action.

And it’s not a slam dunk that even after the six weeks Best will be cleared to play by doctors. Head injuries aren’t like those of the knees or ankles or shoulders. Brains heal funny, in that it’s hard to tell if they’re healed at all.

Some have suggested that Best hang up his spikes and call it a career, despite his tender age and this being just his third pro season. The brain is nothing to be trifled with, they say. Maybe because of Best’s youth, he should consider retirement.

Best has given no indication that he will retire. Lions fans, eager to see what Best can do for an extended period of time, haven’t exactly blown the horn for retirement, either.

No matter what Best’s fate turns out to be—short-lived career or full recovery and longevity—the NFL has a problem on its hands.

There’s no telling how many pro football players have suffered undocumented concussions over the decades. In a game of numbers, “Concussions” wasn’t a statistic the league kept.

The NFL is maybe the most sued entity in America. The league is lawsuit-weary, and right now there are class action suits being levied by former players, charging that the NFL did little to nothing about head injuries in their day (starting with the 1950s).

These suits will be difficult to prove, but they nonetheless bring awareness about concussions and other head injuries, which are growing in frequency proportional to how the players themselves are growing as physical specimens.

What will the NFL do about the Jahvid Bests of the world? They’d better figure it out, because there are more where Jahvid came from.

It may be difficult to prove the NFL culpable for the reduced quality of life of those players whose motor skills have been irreversibly affected by a life spent in pro football. But it won’t be so difficult when it comes to today’s players, if the league doesn’t play this right.

The irony is that the play on which Best suffered his most recent concussion didn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary, which should make the league even more concerned.

Best was scampering toward the sidelines, and was hit just as he went out of bounds. It was contact made countless number of times in every NFL game.

Yet Best was jarred enough to incur the concussion. Nearly a year later, his shoulders have been devoid of pads, his head remains sans helmet, his desire to play growing daily.

Pro football observers are keeping an eye on Best’s situation, for how it goes may dictate how future concussion victims are handled by the NFL.

For his part, Best expects to be cleared to play after his six-week waiting period is up.

“Yes," Best told the Detroit Free Press the other day. "My mind frame hasn't changed since the beginning."

Best said he was symptom-free of post-concussion syndrome in training camp.

"There's no point of really stressing over it,” he said. “There's nothing I can do about it now. Just let it play out. And when I get cleared, get back out there and do what I do best."

The nature of head injuries is that Best could play one quarter, get dinged again and his career could be over with. Or, he may not have another concussion again and play for 10 years. No one knows.

Regardless, more concussions are coming to an NFL team near you. The game is played too fast, with too many big people, who are moving too fast, for that not to be a foregone conclusion.

Perhaps a different type of helmet ought to be considered—something to better withstand all the violent collisions. Certainly the league has the money for R&D to figure out something better to put on its players’ heads.

The NFL has to do something. Players from its past are trying to shake the league down for money. Players of today could be another source of expensive legal wrangling if concussions rise (and they will) and guys are cleared to play too soon, or if they’re misdiagnosed.

The league needs to do whatever it can to reduce the frequency and likelihood of concussions. Whether it’s with equipment or rules or a combination thereof, the NFL has to stay ahead of the curve as much as possible.

Jahvid Best is under the microscope, but his is far from being an isolated case.

How the league acts when it comes to concussions and head injuries could shape its future, and determine the size of its bank account.

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