Jovan Belcher and the Concussion Question

In his fine essay on the Jovan Belcher tragedy, the boss smartly removes the focus from the inevitable, inane gun-control debate and instead underscores a chilling point: We don’t yet know if concussions, which are as routine in the NFL as holding penalties, were a causative factor in Belcher’s actions, but we do know that he had suffered them and that his final days and hours were a woozy haze.

There’s much talk in our culture about tipping points, and as much as I love the NFL, I’m forced to admit that we may be approaching one. There may come a time when we as a society decide that we can no longer tolerate the NFL’s current level of violence, which is having catastrophic effects on its participants.

Look, we all love the thrill of a big hit. But how many of us love to see a player lying motionless on the field in the immediate aftermath? Which brings up another question: Can the game still be a beautiful and breathtaking spectacle without putting its participants’ brain health, not to mention their very lives, at risk?

I still possess the helmet I wore as a sixth-grade football player, a helmet that features countless dings, dents, and scrapes that were once a point of pride. Now I wonder what effect each of those hits was having on my developing brain. The thought of the biggest, strongest athletes in history meting out similar punishment on the brains of their opponents is too terrifying to contemplate.

Clean hits should remain a part of the game, but the risk of catastrophic long-term brain damage simply has to be curtailed somehow. Nursing homes and long-term-care facilities will someday be full of prematurely aged and possibly vegetative former players who will wish that reform had happened much sooner.

— Rob Doster is senior editor for Athlon Sports.

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