Austin Collie Wants to Return to Football, but NFL Teams Must Turn Him Away

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IJune 4, 2013

Sep 23, 2012; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano walks with wide receiver Austin Collie (17) as he is injured and helped off the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium. Jacksonville defeats Indianapolis 22-17.  Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Everywhere around him last season, former Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie was surrounded by inspiring comeback stories. 

Peyton Manning overcame three neck surgeries to become the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. Coach Chuck Pagano beat cancer to return to the sidelines of a Colts team that miraculously improved by eight wins. 

Now, after at least three concussions and a torn patellar tendon robbed him of over 20 games since 2010, Collie wants to make his own comeback to football, per Mike Garafolo of USA Today.

Given his extensive history of head trauma, however, NFL teams should do everything in their power to safeguard Collie—even if that means shattering the dream of his own comeback story.

Obviously desperate to return, Collie told Garafolo he is willing to sign a waiver form to play in the NFL again. 

"I'll sign a waiver, all right?" Collie said. "They're not going to have to worry about me suing. I'll hold myself to be accountable."

Accountability runs both ways, however. 

NFL teams should now have an ethical obligation to their players when dealing with head injuries, especially with the culture of the league shifting towards more and more protection against the long-term effects of concussions.

Collie could be another case study for teams safeguarding players against themselves. 

However, Collie isn't ready to go down without a fight. 

The 27-year-old receiver insists that he's passed neurological exams. Symptoms of his past concussions? Apparently non-existant. For now, Collie believes that his brain should be the least of team's concerns. 

His surgically-repaired patellar tendon is expected to keep him out until at least October, despite Collie insisting he'll be ready by the start of training camp. 

Maybe a team in need of help at receiver—and specially at slot receiver, where Collie was developing into a fine weapon before the concussions and knee injury—will take a chance on a short-term deal later in the summer. 

Or, the NFL could turn its back on Collie, in hopes of protecting the future of a human being who might be one significant head trauma away from life-altering side effects. 

An ESPN report from January of this year presented a UCLA study that found chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in living former NFL players. The neurodegenerative disease has been tied to "dementia, memory loss and depression" in former NFL players, according to the report.

And the most likely cause? Repeated head trauma.  

Collie can look at numerous previous examples, from the CTE discovered in the brain of deceased former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau to the similar suicide of former Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson, and he should find ample reason to address his next career move with caution. 

Need more evidence? The video below of former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon shows his every day battle following repeated concussions. 

NFL teams should exercise similar caution with players. In fact, we already have an example of a franchise protecting one of its own players against the potential effects of repeated head traumas. 

Detroit Lions running back Jahvid Best, a former first-round pick, might now be looking at the end of his own NFL career after a string of devastating head injuries. 

Best, just 24 years old, suffered four different concussion dating back to his senior season at the University of Cal. The fourth and final concussion knocked Best out for the entire 2012 season and is now threatening to his end his playing career. 

The Lions appear to have little plans in ever playing Best again, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Detroit essentially signed Reggie Bush to replace him this offseason. 

Even Best's teammate, receiver Nate Burleson, has come out publicly with his opinion that Best should stop playing football. 

He told the NFL Network (via the Free Press) that he would "shut it down" if he were Best.

Collie is walking down a similar path. 

From late 2010 to August of 2012, Collie suffered separate three concussions. Two were scary ordeals broadcast live on national television. 

A Week 9 hit from a pair of Philadelphia Eagles knocked Collie unconscious, and he later had to be stretchered from the field. He attempted to return to action two weeks later against the New England Patriots but was forced to leave due to concussion-like symptoms. 

Six weeks later, Collie suffered another concussion against the Jacksonville Jaguars and again laid motionless on the turf for several minutes.

His latest concussion came during the 2012 preseason, when an armbar to the helmet caused Collie to sit out until Week 3 of the regular season.

In his first game back, Collie ruptured his right patellar tendon and was lost for the rest of the season. He finished 2012 with one catch for six yards.

Collie told Garafolo that the knee injury allowed him more time to recover from the previous concussions, and his family has pledged support for his return. 

But recovery from head injuries and the severity of the next trauma are two completely different things to consider, and any support for his return from his family has to be considered short-sighted at best. There is simply too much evidence of former players whose later life has been devastated by degenerative brain disease to ignore the enormous risk of playing a game right now. 

Collie and his supporting cast might not understand that risk now, but NFL teams should.

Instead of taking a chance on a banged-up receiver who might fill out a 53-man roster, teams should help protect a young man who has suffered more head trauma than is already necessary. 


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