The news that former Patriots player Junior Seau suffered from degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide last year should be yet another warning to NFL players and coaches: Keep players off the field for at least a game after concussions, while the league probes ways to reduce the level of head trauma players face in their careers. Seau, a pro linebacker for 20 years, was the unmistakable victim of too many hits to the head.
The news about Seau comes as fans and critics are raising questions about Washington Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan’s treatment of star quarterback Robert Griffin III. A rookie who transformed a flailing franchise into a playoff team, Griffin had career-threatening ligament surgery Wednesday after playing Sunday on a knee so balky that fans winced on every play. Though that incident didn’t involve a head injury, it was a reminder of how little the NFL’s macho, play-through-the-pain culture has changed. Shanahan’s refusal to remove Griffin was reminiscent of a game in October when the rookie suffered what Shanahan called a “mild” concussion. The team regarded the injury so lightly that it was fined $20,000 for not promptly reporting it.
No coach should ever describe concussions as mild, and the NFL should require an automatic one-game sit-out by players who suffer them — especially after a study this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that retired NFL players are more likely than average people to suffer cognitive impairments and depression. Junior Seau’s son Tyler was not surprised his father had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, saying, “I was more just kind of angry I didn’t do something more.” Griffin’s injuries symbolize the need to do more, now, before another star becomes another Seau.