I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the NFL this season -- I'm a little overcommitted, and something's had to give -- but cousins and friends of mine are hardcore Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so I follow the team through news reports.
Even if you're not a big sports fan, you couldn't miss the video of Ben Roethlisberger being carried off the field on a backboard during the last game of the regular season, against the Cleveland Browns on December 28. Initial reports said it was a concussion, Roethlisberger's third; a news item I saw yesterday said it was actually a concussion of his spinal cord, which left his arms temporarily numb and paralyzed.
But there he was on Sunday, passing for 181 yards and leading the Steelers to victory, and the commentators and fans seemed to act like this was no big deal.
I don't get this.
A concussion is a bruise to your brain or your spinal cord. A single concussion, if it's serious enough, can lead to weeks or months of impairment, and sometimes even more than that. WebMD says, "Repeated concussions or a severe concussion may require surgery or lead to long-lasting problems with movement, learning, or speaking."
Now, Ben Roethlisberger gets paid a lot of money -- $8 million this year -- to get beaten up on the football field. But the fact that he goes out and plays a full game two weeks after a spinal concussion strikes me as not only reckless for himself, but a bad example for non-professional football programs. Roethlisberger's a role model; how many kids, facing similar injuries, are going to push themselves to come back too soon, just because Ben Roethlisberger did it?
I know this sounds cranky and fretful and killjoy, and I also know it's because traumatic head injury is my own worst physical fear (well, that and being burned alive -- but I can't dive, and can barely overcome my fear enough to do a handstand).
I've seen the effects of concussion and contrecoup on people I love, and I don't know what's worth that. Not a Super Bowl ring, anyway.