Someone should take Percy Harvin's helmet away…forever. Someone should snap a photo of the Seattle wide receiver and print it 32 times to post outside every NFL stadium in America.
DO. NOT. ADMIT. THIS. MAN.
Harvin was removed twice from the Seahawks' NFC divisional round victory over New Orleans after taking a couple of wallops to the head, the second of which has put his availability for the NFC Championship Game in jeopardy.
I feel like at this point in his injury-riddled career, removing Harvin from the game—not a game, but the game—may be for his own good.
Harvin missed almost the entire regular season for Seattle after hip surgery, playing in just one game in November before eventually making it back for the playoffs. He was traded to the Seahawks in the offseason after playing in just nine games for Minnesota in 2012, as an ankle injury forced the Vikings to put him on injured reserve.
He was almost forced onto the IR this season as well, as reports in late December suggested the Seahawks had little choice but to shut him down. Or was that report just a bluff?
On Jan. 10, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk wrote that the threat of putting Harvin on injured reserve might have been a way to get him to work harder. Seriously:
Peter King of TheMMQB.com explained during Friday’s PFT Live that the threat to put Harvin on injured reserve may have been aimed at getting him to practice hard in the hopes of getting him ready to play and play well.
If so, it worked. If so, it shows that Harvin remains somewhat of a challenge when it comes to getting him properly motivated and consistently focused on doing what he has to do to be as successful as possible.
That is the most roundabout way of calling a player "soft" as I have ever read. That's what he's doing there, right? He's calling Harvin soft?
Florio—or King or whatever source at Seattle that wanted this story to get out last week—was calling a guy who has struggled with injury and illness his entire career, and who still spent the regular season trying to rehab his surgically repaired hip to the point where he could be a productive member of his team in the playoffs...soft.
Harvin was active for one regular-season game, making one catch in a win over his old Minnesota team, then was listed as doubtful the following week after soreness returned in his hip. He then missed the rest of the regular season, not playing again until the divisional-round victory over the Saints. The threat of being put on IR was, per that report, a way for Seattle to gauge if Harvin was actually too sore to play. Because if you're injured—if you're soft—you are useless in the NFL.
Harvin is soft. There's no room for softness in the NFL.
Is being soft the worst thing a player can be? Is it better or worse than being a bust?
That's the word our own Mike Freeman used for Harvin in early December. Harvin, or at least the trade to get him, is a bust.
No wonder the guy wants to get back on the field this week. Nobody believes in him. (Note: I don't think a handful of media reports have much bearing on what a player thinks. Having said that, these reports do share a prevailing opinion about athletes with chronic injuries, which is more of a broad football-culture issue than just a few random articles.)
Heck, I started this article by suggesting he never be allowed in a stadium again. If there has ever been a player who wants to prove people wrong, it's Harvin.
I just don't think the team, the league, or anyone with any sense in the world should let him.
As of a report filed Thursday that was still lead news on the league's site Friday, maybe they won't. From NFL.com:
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Harvin still has not been cleared to practice Thursday. He's going through the league's concussion protocol, and it's unclear if he'll be ready for Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Carroll said that receiver Doug Baldwin would be the "next man up" on kickoff returns if Harvin is out. The good news here: The Seahawks are used to playing without Harvin. He had one catch in the regular season, and was knocked out of last week's win over the New Orleans Saints after only four touches.
Next man up. Someone will always be the next man up.
After being knocked so hard they took his helmet away until he went through concussion protocol during the game last week, Harvin went back on the field and took another crushing blow that knocked him out of the game for good.
A week later, he's hoping to get cleared to play. Why? Because a trip to the Super Bowl is on the line. Because if he doesn't play, there's a next man up. And because people think he is soft.
This has plagued Harvin his entire career. He was constantly listed on the Vikings injury report in his four years in Minnesota, often for repeated migraine headaches that hampered his ability to practice and threatened his opportunities to play.
According to KFFL.com, Harvin has been listed on his team's weekly injury list more than 35 times in his five years in the NFL, for 17 different ailments—or separate recurrences of the same ailments—and those numbers do not include his time spent on IR last year or the PUP list earlier this season.
Still, despite his near-constant appearance on the injury report, Seattle gave up three picks, including a first-rounder, before signing Harvin to a six-year deal with more than $25 million guaranteed.
And so as the NFC Championship Game gets nearer, the Seahawks wait to see if their big offseason acquisition will be ready to play this weekend, knowing full well throughout the week the answer was probably going to be "no."
It should be no. It's no. The answer is no. It has to be no.
It's relatively common knowledge in coaching ranks that the longer you give a brain time to heal after a concussion, the better it is for the athlete in the long run. Hell, I'm no doctor, but as a volunteer youth coach I have to take a head injury certification every year and one of the first things the program tells us is to not rush a player back after a concussion.
Why is a player's return to the field even a discussion after four days?
Just last week there was a report on my local news that said studies are showing high school students are struggling to shake the effects of concussions when they return too quickly to the classroom, as well as practice. This, from the Milford Daily News, is a similar study to the one on my local newscast.
According to Health Services Coordinator Christine Babicz, there were 41 reported concussions district-wide last semester, with 30 of them at Medway High School.
She said the longest time for a student to return to academics was more than 90 days, while the shortest was only four days, with an average return time of 21 days.
If it takes someone in high school an average of three weeks to return to class after a concussion, why are we so willing to send athletes back into the same set of circumstances that caused the concussion just seven days later?
How is Harvin returning to the field in time for the NFC Championship even a conversation we are having this week?
How is any player returning in less than a week from a concussion a conversation we are having after the news of a—shall we say—huge SNAFU in the $765 million concussion lawsuit agreed upon in August between the NFL and its former players.
Taylor Zarzour, the host of Bleacher Report's daily radio program on SiriusXM, somewhat sardonically asked me this week if I thought Harvin would be one of the athletes looking to sue the NFL after his career is over. At what point is this the fault of the sport—and the league—and at what point is it on the players?
How many times can a player decimate every part of his body and still be allowed on the field or even in the stadium? And why does he still want to?
He knows the risks. This isn't the 1970s or '80s when players were told to rub some dirt on their injuries and get back on the field.
This isn't the era even ten years ago when sideline doctors used cute terms like "bell rung" because concussion sounded way more serious. How many times working sidelines of football games did a doctor tell me a player had a "stinger" or a "burner", which was essentially code for "separated shoulder" or "injury to the neck and spine."
Adorable nicknames, aren't they? I especially enjoy the cute names given to spinal injuries. Like the one Chargers receiver Malcolm Floyd got in Week 2 of the season when he collided with defenders and suffered a disc injury that forces him to still, 18 weeks later, sleep with a neck brace on. Still, Floyd, in an interview with U-T San Diego, seems focused on getting back onto the field as soon as possible (h/t NFL.com):
I definitely want to play again...I definitely do. I'm getting better steadily, and if my body allows me to play, I'm going to do it. I'm really excited for our team. I want to add some more firepower...If not, then yeah, I need to hang it up. It won't do anything positive. It won't help out me or the team.
The NFL.com report is quick to note that even if Floyd is cleared by doctors, the emergence of Keenan Allen this season may make him expendable next season.
Next man up, as they say.
So it's hard, really, to know what to do as a writer and a fan of the sport when player after player in this year's postseason gets pulled from games and has his helmet taken away. It's impossible to separate the visceral reaction of a crushing hit across the middle with the knowledge that someone like Floyd still feels pain four months after a hit.
On the one hand, the game way is too violent, and the equipment cannot properly protect the players from suffering debilitating—and sometimes life-threatening—injuries to the head and neck.
On the other hand, the league has resorted to taking a player's helmet away because that's the only realistic way a stinger or burner or still-ringing bell is going to keep these guys off the field when the game is on the line.
What if there was a reality show where people signed up to run head first into a brick wall over and over again until one contestant is left standing?
Don’t worry, they'll make sure everyone a helmet. But people would be horrified by the barbaric nature of the show. And it would probably be the highest-rated program on TV.
That's what the NFL feels like sometimes. The game is far more sophisticated than running into a wall, but the impact of the punishment the players willingly put their bodies through is essentially the same.
Harvin, Floyd and the any number of players who suffer head and neck injuries week in and week out only see this one way: They are football players, and they want to play football. If they do, people like me will call them crazy. If they don't, others will call them soft, or a bust.
Me, I'd rather be crazy? For them, there's nothing worse than the alternative.