Marcus Trufant, John Carlson and the Truth About NFL Head Injuries

Ryan FallerAnalyst IJanuary 16, 2011

Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant is carted off the field Sunday after suffering a concussion in the third quarter of the Seahawks' 35-24 playoff loss to Chicago.
Seattle cornerback Marcus Trufant is carted off the field Sunday after suffering a concussion in the third quarter of the Seahawks' 35-24 playoff loss to Chicago.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Not so much ugly as it is sobering, the truth about concussions in the NFL is that the very injuries that threaten the post-football lives of players happen when you least expect them.

High-speed collisions between two men who weigh in excess of 250 pounds and traverse 40 yards in less than four and a half seconds are not prerequisites for disaster.

That much was clear on Sunday.

And there’s not much the NFL can do about it, which is the truly scary part.

Seattle tight end John Carlson and cornerback Marcus Trufant each were carted off the field during the Seahawks’ 35-24 divisional round loss at Chicago, suffering concussions in a manner to which we aren’t exactly accustomed in this era of head injuries caused by helmet-to-helmet assaults and mid-air devastation.

Three minutes into the game, Carlson landed hard on his shoulder and head after being upended by Chicago defensive back Danieal Manning along the sideline. Trufant, who sustained a concussion in a game in November, was taken off the field in the third quarter after his head appeared to collide with the knee of Chicago tight end Kellen Davis during a tackle.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said after the game that both players were hospitalized, but are doing well. Both Carlson and Trufant had full control of their extremities upon being taken off the field.

Neither incident involving Carlson or Trufant was overly violent. In fact, the action leading up to each injury was fairly tame. There was no so-called launching involved. Carlson was not in a defenseless position; Trufant wasn’t injured trying to deliver a knockout blow.

The logical sequence nowadays seems to be that a fine or suspension follows every concussion. That won’t be the case here. The manner in which Carlson and Trufant suffered the concussion is not subject to the league’s aggressive new policies regarding player safety.

According to data obtained by the Associated Press, 154 concussions were reported from the preseason through Week 8 of the 2010 NFL season, an increase of 21 percent over that span from the previous year.

The numbers indicate staff, players, coaches and officials from teams are more wary than ever of the prevalence of concussions in football, and are fully willing to collaborate with the league in its efforts to make safer a game that is brutal by nature.

But what happened Sunday is utterly and completely unavoidable.

Perhaps better equipment could have spared Carlson and Trufant the trauma. Advances in technology have allowed manufacturers to produce a better helmet—one that is lighter and more shock-absorbent—but the natural evolution of the modern NFL athlete has leveled things out.

More than anything else, Carlson and Trufant were victims of bad luck.

Concussions in football are going to happen. Tweaking the game, tailoring the equipment, and policing the events that lead to head injuries will reduce their numbers, but only to an extent.

Eliminating 100 percent of the chance of a concussion is not possible, nor is the injury any less serious because it didn’t involve a highlight-reel hit or a player lying motionless soon thereafter.

Both of which, unfortunately, are things the NFL can do nothing about.