Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

The Real Reason The NFL Can't Fix Concussions Any Time Soon

In yesterday's game against the Giants, Lions tight end Dorin Dickerson sustained a concussion while covering a kickoff return. (It appears to have been on a simple touchback.) He stayed in the game, until he eventually screwed up on back to back plays.

Normally, we'd show you the play, and talk about the inextricable nature of violence in football, because, well, it's true. But here, we can't, because it happened offscreen, and because the play ended in a fair catch, there was no reason to show it. And Dickerson didn't take a knee, or ask to come out of the game. He just kept playing. Who could know?

Theoretically, the answer should be either a spotter in the press box with access to replay video, or the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant present at every NFL game. These are specialists in place to observe the game under the assumption that players are going to lie, because players are always going to lie if it means they can stay in a game. But they can't see everything, and they're still—somewhat necessarily—keying in on the big hits, not every player getting knocked to the ground in kick coverage (even then, they miss some egregious ones). And certainly not every player making routine missed plays like Dickerson in the video above.


The typical, nihilistic viewpoint here is that if if a player is lying about his condition, he deserves what he gets. Even slightly more rational approaches come to similar conclusions, that a player making a conscious decision to put his career over health is his prerogative. But the external forces in play—from coaches, teammates, family, whoever else—are strong enough that it isn't exactly reasonable to expect honesty from players here when they are expected to lie through their teeth to get on the field with every other type of injury.

So how do you stop players from becoming even more withdrawn with information about their brain injuries as more emphasis is being placed on them? Hard to say. It's simply not in a player's best interest (at least immediately) to let the staff know every time he's shaken up, and possibly make himself the case study in a team winning some PR by sitting him for the remainder of a season, then quietly releasing him in the offseason. When it is in his interest is after staying in a game he should have come out of, and then screwing up in overtime. And that's the real issue the NFL has on its hands with Dickerson today: At what point does an undiagnosed concussion become (or in a roundabout way, go back to being) commonplace enough that players feel comfortable enough discussing it to explain a poor play, not much removed from a high ankle sprain or a broken pinky on the throwing hand?

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