Jahvid Best, Retirement and Why the Detroit Lions Will Be OK

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IOctober 16, 2012

DETROIT - OCTOBER 16: Patrick Willis #52, NaVorro Bowman #53 and Justin Smith #94 of the San Francisco 49ers tackle Jahvid Best #44 of the Detroit Lions during the second quarter of the NFL game at Ford Field on October 16, 2011 in Detroit, Michigan. The 49ers defeated the Lions 25-19. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The verdict is in: Jahvid Best will not play football in 2012.

He didn't play for most of 2011, and there's a good chance he won't in 2013 or ever again.

That's speculation on my part, of course, but it has been more than a year since Best suffered his most recent concussion. He claims to have been symptom-free for months.

The big question about Best's career is if he's not available to play now, when will he be? What needs to happen to make him ready for contact?

The panel of neurologists that just refused to clear Best for a return to football aren't thinking about the future of Best's football career. They're looking at the results of the tests Best took last week, and they're giving him a yes or no answer about returning to football right now.

If Best goes through the same testing in another six months, those doctors will do the same thing: See if he's recovered enough to return to football at that moment

What these doctors likely are not going to do is tell him to retire. Neither will the Lions. That is a decision they're going to force Best to make himself, and they'll fail him in his concussion recovery tests as many times as they need to until he makes that decision.

That's not to say that anybody has it in for Best. If anything, it's the exact opposite.

The doctor that made this determination is listed as an independent neurologist. In other words, the doctor could care less whether or not the NFL is getting sued over concussions and could care equally less how important Best is to the Lions.

What that doctor cares about is whether or not Best is going to turn his brain to mush if he puts a football helmet back on. And realistically, that's what Best should be concerned about as well.

Of course, football is all Best has known as an adult. I doubt he is willing to give up the game he loves (and is very good at) if there is a chance he can eventually return.

But what assurance is there that he will ever return if he hasn't already? Is Best's fate to just keep working out and failing cognition tests until he gives up?

I'm no doctor, and I don't claim to understand concussions. Similarly, I'm certainly not privy to the conversations between Best and his doctor(s). I'm sure the topic of "can I ever play again" came up, and I don't know what kind of answer he got.

Still, there is no way to present the idea that Best has been (and continues to be) medically barred from football activity for more than a year because of the same single injury as a good thing. It's bad, and I don't see how it gets better.

That means it's decision time for the Lions. This spring, some criticized the Lions' decision to pass on a potential upgrade at running back. At the time, Mikel Leshoure was as much a health risk as Best, but the feeling was that the Lions would need a replacement for one or both of them.

Six weeks into the season, Leshoure is fine, and Best may never be. And to be fair, the Lions have found some consistency in the running game even without Best. But Best isn't so much an addition to the running game as much as he is a completely different dimension in the offense entirely.

The Lions are now missing that dimension, but they have been for more than a year, and they've gotten along. At least now they know not to expect him back.

So while Best is unlikely to give up on football, it may be time for the Lions to stop relying on Best's triumphant return.

Of course, don't let me spin this in a positive way. Losing Best is a major blow to the Lions. Regardless of the reasoning, he represents a whiffed first-round pick. A medical bust, if you will.

But this happens. Injuries are a part of the game, and like Billy Sims in 1984, sometimes they don't just cut seasons short, they cut careers short. It's not insensitive to recognize that and react to it; it's part of running a successful NFL franchise.

In this case, if the Lions make the decision to move forward from Best, it could be not only a good business decision, but best for the man himself.

In 2011, another Cal Bear, Zack Follett, decided to call it quits on his career because of lingering effects of a spinal cord injury. The difference between him and Best is not the potential impact of the injury, but the severity of the symptoms. Follett knew it was time to go because he could feel the effects in his neck.

Best claims to have been symptom-free for months, which means either he's lying, or symptoms have nothing to do with his personal safety. But if he's really not feeling the effects, it's understandable that he feels like he can make a comeback.

By the same token, though, if Best is feeling no ill effects of his concussions, he can't really know when he'll be available to return—or how dangerous it could be to do so.

If Best doesn't know, and his doctors don't know, then the Lions certainly don't know. And the Lions can't wait forever to fill the void that Best leaves.

For the good of everyone involved, maybe it's time for the Lions to move on without Best, and for Best to move on to the next phase of his life before he becomes more of a tragic story than he already is.


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