NFL Rumors: 49ers' Heitman Has Neck Injury, Patrick Willis Upset With NFL

Blaine SpenceSenior Writer IOctober 21, 2010

Is it just me, or does he look a bit like "Ogre" from Revenge of  the Nerds?
Is it just me, or does he look a bit like "Ogre" from Revenge of the Nerds?NFL Photos/Getty Images

San Francisco 49ers starting center, Eric Heitmann, has missed every game so far this season due to a broken fibula suffered in training camp. That injury may have been masking a more serious injury that Heitmann suffered to his neck just five days before he broke his leg.

The neck injury was first reported to be a stinger.

The exact nature of the injury has not been made clear to the media, but Heitmann is expected to miss at least another four weeks and perhaps much longer.

David Baas will continue to take snaps at center and Tony Wragge will back him up.

It is far too early to speculate on what type of injury Heitmann sustained, however the seriousness of a neck injury cannot be overstated.

Neck injuries are not new to the NFL. One only has to recall the paralyzing injury to the late Darryl Stingley to be reminded of the risks that a NFL player takes every time he steps foot on the field. Stingley's injury was caused by a vicious hit by Oakland Raiders safety Jack Tatum back in 1978.

There was also the case of Detroit Lions guard Mike Utley, who was paralyzed during a 1991 game against the Los Angeles Rams.

New York Jets defensive lineman Dennis Byrd was paralyzed in a 1992 game. Fortunately he later regained the use of his legs and can now walk.

In 2007, Houston Texans defensive tackle, Cedrick Killings, suffered a broken vertebrae, and Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered a life threatening spinal cord injury.

Although it is unclear how Heitmann's injury occurred, and it is obviously not as serious as the aforementioned cases, you can't help but wonder if this is the kind of injury that affords too much risk for him to return to the playing field.

Heitmann was seen by Bay Area neck specialist Dr. Kenny Zuckerman, and he is expected to seek out additional opinions in the upcoming days.

In light of the NFL's crack down on viscous hits and its increased concern over concussions, one can only hope that their actions will help prevent neck injuries as well.

Football is a dangerous and sometimes violent game. Quite frankly that is why a lot of people watch.

But it is clear the NFL's new penalties for the existing polices have created a bit of a conundrum for players like the 49ers Patrick Willis

"I thought as a defensive guy you’re supposed to hit," Willis said. "You shouldn't get in trouble or fined or get a flag for just playing football. As a defensive player, it's hard to play football now without worrying about the crazy stuff."—Source Yahoo Sports

You have to protect the players, but can you really take the violence out of the sport?