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Cory's Corner: The NFL must protect Sam Shields from himself

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Cory's Corner: The NFL must protect Sam Shields from himself

Players are programmed to play.

They stay on the field until they are told to come off.

The Packers recently released top cornerback Sam Shields because of recurring concussions. He suffered his fifth reported concussion of his football career in Week 1 at Jacksonville and was in concussion protocol purgatory the rest of the season.

The key phrase from that paragraph is reported. We don’t know how many unreported concussions he suffered that he confidently played through because that’s what he has always done.

And now Shields says that he isn’t going to hang it up. That surprises me. The Packers had strong trepidation about playing Shields at all this year because they didn’t want to risk future injury or his future well being. We’ll never know if Shields did in fact come close to playing after Week 1 because the Packers rightly closed that door each time his name came up.

But when should playing be taken away from a player? Can a player be trusted to look out for his own best interests?

If a player cannot pass concussion protocol for 16 straight weeks, is he really ready to take the next step? Can he trust his body to give and absorb another punishing hit?

Let’s face it, the NFL isn’t a forgiving league. Just ask guys like Jim McMahon and Bernie Kosar who are currently living in a fog thanks to concussions.

The NFL needs to step in and tell Shields to walk away or inform all of its teams that it shouldn’t sign the walking injury risk.

The league has said over and over that it cares about player safety. It’s about time it puts its money where its mouth is. 


Cory Jennerjohn is a graduate from UW-Oshkosh and has been in sports media for over 15 years. He was a co-host on "Clubhouse Live" and has also done various radio and TV work as well. He has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. He currently is a columnist for CHTV and also does various podcasts. He recently earned his Masters degree from the University of Iowa. He can be found on Twitter: @Coryjennerjohn

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (24) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

packerbackerjim's picture

Shields is amongst my all-time fave Packers--incredible speed and hands, maybe the best hands for a DB. But the series of major concussions put me solidly in favor of retirement, voluntarily or not. Time to celebrate a great Packer career.

Savage57's picture

With his history, he's done.

Except for maybe the Vikings. They're the only team in the league stupid enough to sign a guy with a glaring concussion susceptibility and not even aware of the impact of being named as the principal defendant when he files suit in 5 years.

dobber's picture

There will be no new suits from current players on that front. They now know the issues and the league "cover-up" is now out in the open. It's hard for a player to hold the league culpable when all the info is out there now.

Stacey Grosnick's picture

Cory, while I agree the NFL should step in when a player's safety and future well being is at stake, Sam Shields gets nothing but his signing bonus guaranteed from his salary. There would need to be some sort of compensation for the player if the NFL as a league can "retire" them.

dobber's picture

Shields has the right to play as long as someone is willing to pay him. Is it a good idea? I sure don't think so, but so long as both parties are willing to take the risk, it's not for the league to get in the way.

"The NFL needs to step in and tell Shields to walk away or inform all of its teams that it shouldn’t sign the walking injury risk."

If it's not in the CBA, the league likely can't do it...and to blackball a player as you imply would likely open the league, rightly or not, to legal action that they would likely lose. The body of work is there and the facts on the table (the CB-challenged Packers walking away) will make it hard for Shields to catch on. That's not to say some other CB needy team won't roll the dice on a cheap contract, but it's buyer beware and everyone knows it.

packerbackerjim's picture

He has a right to play IF he passes the concussion protocol; teams have a right not to take on the risk.

Cory Jennerjohn's picture

True, but not if the other 31 teams pass on him.

Hematite's picture

Take care of your self Sam, walk away while you can.

Cory Jennerjohn's picture

There's a delineation between oversaturation and player safety.

Concussions and head trauma are a non-story? That must be why the NFL is expected to dole out a $1 billion settlement starting this summer.

dobber's picture

The issue on the payout by the NFL is not so much that players are suffering, but that the NFL suppressed knowledge about it in a cigarette manufacturer-esque kind of cover-up.

It's a slippery slope in the name of "player protection", and one the league likely doesn't want any part of and a power the player's association doesn't want to give them. What about a player with spinal stenosis who chooses to continue? How about a guy with degenerative hip or back condition? Does the league have an obligation to protect those players from themselves if those conditions are known? The argument if they start "retiring" players due to concussion is yes.

jasonperone's picture

Yet you read it anyway. The definition of contradictory! At least you haven't hurled an insult yet so maybe there's hope for you. Maybe...

jasonperone's picture

I think you're looking for the "Political Wonk" thread. This is a Packers football discussion forum.

dobber's picture

Yes and no.

If the article were tilted more toward, "Should the Packers have cut Shields?" or "Should the Packers bring Shields back at the vet minimum?", that's different from "Should the LEAGUE...." which is the title here.

I would argue that this question of what the league should do vs. what the league CAN do is almost exclusively political wonk and virtually no Packers.

jasonperone's picture

Yes and thanks for making my point for me

Tarynfor12's picture

Shields apparently is of sound mind to make a decision about his well being and I'll respect that choice. However, I will be the first to show no sympathy for he who willingly attempts to take on an oncoming truck that may deal a life long brain incapacity.
This kind of thinking is parallel to the alcoholic, drug addict who insisted the infliction wouldn't happen to them.
The Packers chose to prohibit him from playing to the extent they but wash hands is must.
Choice to be stupid merits no sympathy. ..a long standing rule for me.

marpag1's picture

And yet mixed martial arts, which have no purpose or goal whatsoever except to beat the everlasting daylights out of another human being and to cause a concussion, have never been more popular.

So I guess the UFC needs to save Conor McGregor from himself?

Since '61's picture

Whether or not Shields is fully recovered from his latest concussion I hope that he stays off the field. If he wants he should see if there is any interest for him to coach DBs. As for the NFL they should create a fund for players whose careers have been cut short by concussions. Enough to get them through their recovery and transition period. This would help a player like Shields decide to remain out of football rather than return and risk permanent damage. With $11 billion in annual revenues and growing the NFL has plenty of money to support their players. However greed rules at least for now. Hopefully this issue and others concerning players health and safety will be addressed during the next CBA negotiations. Thanks, Since '61

MarkinMadison's picture

If the NFL wants to encourage teams to walk away from guys with concussion histories, a player who is released with multiple concussions (3+ reported, couldn't pass protocol for at least, say, six consecutive weeks) should not have any "dead money" counted against the cap. Teams who sign the player would be forced to eat the dead cap money on top of whatever the contract pays. Or you could even double it as a disincentive to teams who are considering guys like Shields. I agree the NFLPA would probably have to bless it, but I think it makes more sense than trying to legislate a straight ban.

Chad Toporski's picture

I'd say the problem is figuring out where to draw that line.

While I agree that the player should have the right to pursue a contract without being forced by the NFL into retirement (or told he can't play anymore), I also have to hope that the 32 teams will see a player like Shields and respect his health concerns.

Honestly, it's probably a moot point, since most teams see it as a liability, even if not for the player's sake. Who's going to cough up millions for a player who could be out another season the next time he gets knocked in the head?

Razer's picture

With the NFL just negotiating a billion dollar brain injury settlement, you can rest assured that there will be money implications for teams. Risk and insurance will dictate whether guys like Shields will play beyond their health concerns. Teams will stay away just like they stayed away from Finley and Collins.

PETER MAIZ's picture

Well, it's a collision game developed way back when people didn't know what a concussion was. I for one don't think football will be around more than 20 years unless the brass finds a way of protecting the brain.

Ferrari Driver's picture

One of the better success stories for the Green Bay Packers. Perhaps not quite in the Willy Wood camp, but pretty darn good.

We need him in the secondary, but I sincerely hope he doesn't play for the Packers or any other team in the league. I fear that he will have issues later in his life from the head trauma even if he never plays another down. A solid choice for the Packers Hall of fame.

wimiller's picture

and you know how poor Willie ended up.

Gforcetrivers's picture

I would say If players like Sam want to still play they need to be exempted from future concussion related suits. The Packers treat this type of player the same. Germicael Finley is a good example.

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