The NFL said Wednesday it found no evidence that Tom Brady or the Patriots hid a possible concussion for the quarterback last season. This would make it the first time the NFL let a lack of evidence regarding Brady purportedly violating NFL protocols prevent it from punishing him or the Patriots. So, that’s progress.
However, it’s not progress for the league in dealing with concussions as an existential threat to the game and its players. In Gisele I trust. Excuse me if I’m not convinced that Brady didn’t suffer a concussion last season, as his wife, Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, stated in May on national television.
There can be all the medical studies in the world detailing the link between concussions and degenerative brain disease, the NFL can institute as many player safety rules and protocols as it wants, the league can fund NASA-worthy advances in helmet technology — none of it matters if the players conceal concussions and continue to put themselves in harm’s way.
If the best player in the game possibly felt compelled to hide concussionlike symptoms, then how willing is the average NFL player to come forward?
Fooling trainers and faking health have been part of the NFL for eons. The league is fighting a cultural issue as much as a cognitive one when it comes to concussions. Intrinsic is a culture that encourages players to downplay injuries and dissemble regarding their existence. It’s the tough-guy tenor of the NFL, but it’s also a reality of job security in a league where players are treated like disposable razors.
Still, no players nowadays can complain that the NFL is covering up the risk of concussions. The players have been forewarned about the risk of playing. They’ve inherited the onus for their long-term well-being.
Brady hasn’t said directly that he didn’t suffer a concussion last season. He deflected the question during training camp, saying he didn’t think his medical history was anybody’s business.
The NFL’s statement said that after a review of film from every Patriots game, every report from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and the certified athletic trainer spotters in the booth — who have the power to stop games if they see a player exhibiting signs of a concussion — and Brady’s medical records that there was nothing to indicate Brady had been concussed.
“This review identified no evidence of any deviation from the Protocol by the Patriots’ medical staff or the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultants assigned to Patriots’ games or any indication that Mr. Brady sustained a concussion or reported signs or symptoms consistent with having sustained a concussion,” said the statement.
No evidence isn’t the same as no concussion, though. The problem for Brady is that this is a no-win. Maybe Brady never had a concussion, but he simply doesn’t want to embarrass his wife publicly by contradicting her. As anyone who has been married can attest, refuting your spouse is a bad idea.
However, admitting he had a concussion or concussionlike symptoms in 2016 is bad business for Brady, on and off the field.
Brady has always been keenly aware that he could lose his job the way he seized it from Drew Bledsoe in 2001 — via injury. With Jimmy Garoppolo breathing down his back and getting a chance to start last year when Brady served his four-game Deflategate suspension, going through the concussion protocol would not have been an appealing option. They’ll have to pry the football from Brady’s cold, dead hand before he opens the door for anyone to usurp him.
From a brand standpoint, Brady can’t afford to admit a concussion, not after he waxed poetic at the Super Bowl about how his brain training with a product called BrainHQ helps him prevent concussions.
“There has been a lot of talk about concussions and head trauma and CTE,” Brady said in February. “I’ve learned that prevention is part of the issue. I work hard to try and prevent some of those things from happening. BrainHQ does a great job of cognitively trying to keep me ahead of any of those problems.”
BrainHQ has become part of Brady’s fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle brand, the TB12 Method.
Approximately 45 minutes after the NFL announced it found no evidence that Brady had a concussion last season, an e-mail landed in my inbox trumpeting that “anyone can now train their brain like Tom Brady.”
It said some of the brain exercises Brady uses with Brain HQ to ward off concussions and the ravages of aging would be available on a website for free. But to get the full program Brady uses you have to — wait for it — subscribe and pay $14 per month or $96 for an annual subscription.
Brady’s body and his health at age 40 are his brand. No one is paying for brain exercises if the guy that is extolling the virtues of them suffered a concussion last season, and it’s “concussion water” 2.0.
For his sake, hopefully, Brady was concussion-free last year, and Gisele simply misunderstood when she told CBS: “He had a concussion last year. I mean, he has concussions pretty much every . . . you know, we don’t talk about it, but he does have concussions.”
It would be painful to watch the greatest quarterback of all time suffer from the CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and cognitive impairment that have plagued some of his NFL predecessors. It would be horrible to have to write a story about how Brady can’t find his way to his Brookline home or has trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
Brady has never been listed on the NFL’s injury report with a concussion in his 18-year career. It’s hard to believe that he has never suffered one ever.
Tom Brady Sr. told the Globe in May that if his son had suffered a concussion he wouldn’t tell his parents. Brady Sr. said the culture of the NFL discourages players from revealing injuries to anyone.
“There are all kinds of stigmas that go with injuries in the league,” said Brady Sr. “When you are injured, you are an outcast, for better or worse. The players do want to play; that’s the way they make their living. There is the warrior mentality for football in the first place. There’s not going to be true transparency in every situation from the players’ standpoint.”
That culture of silence is a threat to Brady and his NFL brethren.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.