Some of NFL’s biggest heads join concussion debate

Before taking early retirement, Detroit’s Calvin Johnson towers over and toys with a Green Bay defender. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

This Week In Concussion News has been an important one, if only to highlight one of the greatest barriers to unscrambling this persistent issue:

Players lie.

To recap.

While he was complaining to the Detroit Free Press about the overall treatment he received as he earned more than $100 million with the Lions, former Tech star receiver Calvin Johnson also let slip, “Guys get concussions; they don’t tell the coaches.”

“It happens. I don’t tell the coach sometimes ‘cause I know I got a job to do,” Johnson said. “The team needs me out there on the field. And sometimes you allow that to jeopardize yourself. That’s just the nature of the world.”

It has been thus since the first Neanderthal rubbed a little dirt on an abscess and went back to the hunt. Playing hurt is deeply embedded in the athlete’s DNA. It’s another of those unwritten codes. The kind that keep pitchers throwing at hitters for the slightest of insults and otherwise predatory point guards dribbling out the clock of games that already are decided.

To hear his wife tell it, even Tom Brady, Mr. World on a String, is not beyond taking part in a little concussion cover-up. Giesele Bundchen told “CBS This Morning” that even though Brady’s head was never mentioned on a New England injury report last season, he did have a concussion. “We don’t talk about it, but he does have concussions,” she said.

In the wake of that interview, both Brady’s agent and the NFL stated that the quarterback suffered no concussions in 2016. (He certainly caused several among those Falcons fans who violently slapped their foreheads at the close of the Super Bowl).

Who do you trust to issue the most accurate injury report: Any given fashion model or the Patriots?

Such stubbornness in the face of mounting evidence on the cumulative, long-term damage of head trauma puts a greater load on teams to protect the players from their own sense of invincibility. Here are more reminders that it is more important than ever for medical staffs to see through the self-interest of the team that employs them and the denials of players who just want to get back on the field and confine the concussed player to the bench.

But the players also need to take some responsibility for their own well-being. We are years past the point where guys can laugh off getting their bell rung and playing on through the fog.

We sense an important cause here that Johnson might champion since he is still a relatively young man in full voice. Why not make that part of his message to the next generation of player – if you feel something wrong up there between the ears, say something.

In lawsuits brought by former players against the NFL there is at the core of the debate how much of the damage is institutional and how much personal. This has not been a good week to blame the cold, uncaring NFL – as much as we may like to do that. Not when a couple of the biggest, brightest stars are caught up in stories that suggest players are still accomplices to their own brain damage.

Nothing changes until they wise up, too.

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