Protecting the athletes from themselves


Chicago, IL — This week, two prominent  Chicago professional sports athletes divulged some frightening news on the concussion front.  NFL Chicago Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher once again confirmed to the media that he would conceal if he could from his team and medical staff that he had a concussion.  Similarly NHL Chicago Blackhawk Jonathan Toews revealed that he was not entirely well when he was cleared to play last year for the Blackhawks in their playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Brian Urlacher had originally revealed his stance on concussion back in January to HBO during their real sports segments. He reiterated his feelings this week again in light of the recent concussion issues being raised due to QB Jay Cutler’s concussion this past week during the Houston Texans game.

There was a firestorm because of Brian’s comments and what kind of message it is sending children. The comments are disturbing because they illustrate an athlete’s mentality towards concussion injury which, is an injury even most doctors do not understand or can predicate it’s outcome. Brian Urlacher seems either in denial or misguided in his statements that knee injuries are just as severe as concussions.

The positive to come from Brian’s comments are through his honesty the NFL and the Chicago Bears medical staff has now been put on notice.  It is up to them to look out for Brian Urlacher’s health because he obviously will not.

It is not just Urlacher either. Jay Cutler who suffered a concussion had to be held out by the Bears staff. In fact Cutler stayed in for several plays after the concussion hit. It was obvious to anyone watching the game on TV that there was something wrong with Jay as he kept moving his head around.

Similarly and coincidentally this week in Chicago sports Chicago Blackhawks star center Jonathan Toews admitted now that he was not 100% when he played in the playoffs last year. Unlike Urlacher though Toews stated he was unaware that some of his symptoms could be concussion related. In Toews case it seems lack of understanding or information may have motivated him to play when he really should not have.

It is also not surprising that Toews played given that he is his team’s captain and leader and they were not just playing a hockey game but a playoff hockey series. This made his participation all the more needed in these games but not at the risk of his long-term health. No playoff game or series is worth that and this is where teams physicians should be sitting their athletes. Even if they are unsure it is better to err on the side of caution.

Toews recently admitted to the Chicago Tribune that he only started feeling right this past week. 1 Toews first went out in February 2012 after a game with the St. Louis Blues. This is now November 2012 so almost nine months have gone by with Toews largely not on the ice skating and he is just now recovering which shows concussions are not to be taken lightly.

Even though these are two different sports they have one common element high-speed contact. Athletes love their sports and love to play the game. There is no question Brian Urlacher loves football just as Jonathan Toews loves hockey, which may cloud their judgments even to their own long-term detriments. Regardless of reason the onus is now on their respective leagues, teams and medical staffs to be their watchdogs.

Teams must take the responsibility seriously themselves because you cannot leave the decisions to play up to the athletes because they have now admitted they either will lie or are not informed enough to make that determination as to their health. Morally organizations have a duty to protect their athletes as best they can yes these athletes are aware of the inherent risks of each of their sports but how can they know the full risks if even medical professionals do not.

While everyone was up in arms over Urlacher’s comments, we should be more up in arms that these leagues, teams and staffs have not done a better job in understanding concussions and protecting these athletes. The NFL is now facing numerous litigation battles that may threaten the very survival of the NFL itself.

The NHL is not immune either. There have been countless allegations of player suicides possibly being linked to concussion affects. The leagues own superstar and face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby has battled concussions for what seems like an eternity.

As a football fan, I like Brian Urlacher and everything he has done on the field for the Chicago Bears I’d like to see him be able to enjoy his retirement one day and remember his glory days at Soldier Field with fond memories.

Similarly as a hockey fan I adore Jonathan Toews and will never forget how he along with the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks brought hockey pride back to a city. Chicago will not soon forget that parade and we all want Jonathan to remember that day as well. We all want to see Jonathan Toews on the ice for the Blackhawks for quit a long while, but we want to see him healthy.

While we are all trying to understand what concussions are all about we need to be very, very cautious in the meantime. Leagues, teams, staff, players & fans must remember these are only games that are supposed to be fun and entertainment. We have to ask ourselves how much our entertainment is worth? I doubt the answers will be a player’s life or long-term health. While it is difficult for teams to sit their stars and players to contain their desire to play in the long run we must do what is best for them not just a athletes but as fellow human beings as we continue to learn and study concussions and their effects.

  1. 11/15/12 Chicago Tribune article by Chris Kuc – here is the link to that article http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-11-15/sports/ct-spt-1115-blackhawks-toews-chicago–20121115_1_concussion-protocols-jonathan-toews-concussion-effects
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