In last night’s Sunday Night Football game, Hines Ward suffered a “neck injury.” Let me just stop right there and say, that phrase really pissed me off. Okay, so maybe it was a neck injury, but I think if we took a survey of the room, the consensus would be concussion not neck injury. Needless to say, Ward did not return and spent the rest of the game on the sideline riding the stationary bike trying to convince people to let him play. After the game, Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin confirmed that Hines Ward suffered a concussion.
I made a comment on twitter recalling when Ward called out Ben Roethlisberger for not playing through his concussion. I received a couple of responses, two got under my skin. These two tweeps, I don’t know them all that well, contended that Ward wanted to come back in (implying the Big Ben did not) and it was the medical staff that kept him out. This puts me in a very difficult spot; I definitely under no circumstances ever want to have to defend Big Ben, but really people! Come on! Is there really still so much confusion over the concussion issue that people think Big Ben should have played last year?
The gap between understanding the complexity of concussions is wider than I’d like to believe. Recall the Packers vs. Eagles game when Eagles player Stewart Bradley stumbled off the field, clearly out of it, only to come back in a few plays later. It was determined later that, duh, that Bradley had a concussion and was held out the rest of the game.
Look at former Bears and Packers quarterback, Jim McMahon. The story broke last week that his memory is “pretty much gone.” He frequently forgets little things like why he walked into a room. He’s 51.
Look at Ward’s own reaction to his concussion, from The Pittsburgh Tribune Review: “I felt like I could have played but our (doctors) felt otherwise,” Ward said. “It’s my body. I feel like if I want to go back out there I should have the right. They saw me tripping over the grass and the league was going to make a big deal about it, them putting me back out there.”
I’m neither a professional athlete nor a neurologist. But I’ve had a concussion and know enough people with traumatic brain injuries to stand confidently behind the NFL concussion policy. A player should not be rushed back on to the field, and no one – a teammate, coach, owner, fan, or even the player himself – should be judging or pressuring a player to come back before he is medically cleared. I don’t assume I’d get much argument with this stance. But then again, I didn’t expect some people on twitter to still believe it was Roethlisberger’s choice not to play through his concussion.