The NFL is a Head Case

Originally, this weekend’s blog was meant to be light and fluffy. I’d start with a few Halloween costume ideas I gathered at a Friday-night party, (my two friends were a bug and a bee; I was the Orkin girl; also: bee/bee keeper, Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning; Mario/Luigi; light socket/plug) and then recount my it’d-be-hard-to-recreate-this-again Sunday-night experience watching the Sox sweep the Series with my Red Sox friend Tori and Yankees friend Lindsay … and a room full of ardent Yankees fans. We attended the annual Watch a World Series Game with Lindsay’s Grandpa night at the Yogi Berra museum at Montclair State University.

But Sunday afternoon, I went to the Jets-Bills game. And then I got mad. So I ditched light and fluffy …

I am so tired of hearing folks from the NFL talk about their vigilance in respect to concussions. It’s all BS. Apparently, this is something I have to get used to if I’m going to cover professional football. (I’ve had to get used to it while covering action sports. But unfortunately, because there are no players’ unions or leagues to stand up for the athletes, contests leave the decision of whether or not to continue competing—and often the diagnosis itself—up to the injured athletes. And as ESPN proved during this summer’s X Games, they’re certainly not going to stand in the way of a concussed athlete getting back on his bike/board to compete or wave to the crowd. It’s about ratings, people!)

But the NFL is different. There is a players’ union. This is a league. And this is not the X Games. Players can afford to take a month off to heal without risking their livlihood. But teams, apparently, can’t afford to allow their players to take a month off to heal from an invisible injury. So coaches are sacrificing their players’ heads for the sake of a win.

And these players are not going to risk the health of their contracts for their own health or, even worse, look like a wimp, to take themselves out of a game. They’re not going to take themselves to the hospital. Someone must do this for them.

But instead, they are thrown back onto the field for the next play/series/game. Apparently, these irresponsible actions go on all the time, always have. I just wasn’t around to see it. Sunday, I did. And although I know I shouldn’t have been, I was shocked as hell.

Early in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Laveranues Coles took a nasty hit from behind, delivered by Bills CB Terrence McGee. It was a clean hit, but it swept Coles off his feet and straight to the ground, face first. His head took the brunt of the impact, and he went limp immediately. Unconscious. He laid on the field for a good two minutes without moving. A few moments later, the field docs got him to his feet and Coles walked off the field without assistance.

Then they led him to the team bench, where he remained for the rest of the game. (Perhaps this would have been a good time for oh, I don’t know, a CT scan.)

After the game, and after coach Mangini’s press conference, I walked into the Jets locker room. Of course, I knew Coles wouldn’t be there. He would be in the training room, getting checked out. Or, actually, he would be on his way to a local hospital for a CT scan. Nope.

He was standing at his locker, changing into his street clothes, with a mob of cameras and reporters surrounding him. I couldn’t believe he was there. Answering questions about the game. “Who should be blamed for this bad season?” … “Should the team look itself in the mirror?”

Are you kidding me? The guy has a bruised cheek and a swollen lip. His eyes are glassy as Lake Erie in Spring, and these folks want to talk to him about the game. How could you have contributed more? [This morning, while mentioning Coles’ hit, Mark Cannizzaro of the NY Post found it necessary to include that it came on “his only catch of the day.”] How could Coles have contributed more? I don’t know. Maybe he could have been conscious for the final 10 minutes.

Toward the end of the Q&A, a reporter asked Coles how he was feeling. “I’m fine,” he said. I asked if he’d been checked out. “I’m fine,” he repeated. “I feel fine.” Another reporter asked, “Are you sure? You were out for a long time.” His reply: “I was? Well, you would know better than me. But I’m fine.” Fine.

You’d think a team with such a poor reputation for dealing with concussions (see: Wayne Chrebet) would be more heedful of players who’ve taken knocks to the noggin. Had Coles gone home last night and died in his sleep because of excessive bleeding in his brain, the entire Jets organization should have been held accountable. But he didn’t, so they weren’t. This time.

UPDATE 11.01.07 – Better late than never? Today, after shielding coaches and medical staff from the press, the Jets admitted Coles has a concussion. He did not practice Wednesday and may not play Sunday. But why wait until now to write about it? The quotes in every local story I found were gathered in the locker room on Sunday.

UPDATE 11.04.07 – I have to commend the Jets. Today the placed Coles on the inactive list, knowing it would break his record streak of starts.


  1. LC in upstate on November 6, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Don’t forget Al Toon.

    Great blog!


    Plattsburgh, NY

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