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When to say when

Posted by Charles P. Pierce January 8, 2009 05:59 AM

The crawl across the bottom of the TV screen in my local the other night mentioned that Ben Roethlisberger, the quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, had recovered from his mild concussion and likely would be able to suit up on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

The next day, Roethlisberger took questions and told the media that he was putting all this in the past, so much so that he was declining even to wear a special helmet designed so that he would not get another concussion. Now, I am all in favor of the notion that, as my grandmother used to say, everyone should go to hell in their own way, but I’d like to say the following, for the record.

Ben Roethlisberger is not brave.

Ben Roethlisberger is a moron.

Any doctor who clears him to play is a moron.

Any coach who sends him out to play is a moron.

Any writer, TV pundit, former player, or fan who cheers him while he plays is a moron.

Ben Roethlisberger’s career as a professional football player should be over.

Today.

This minute.

Are we all clear?

Great. We can continue.

This is the third football-related concussion of Roethlisberger’s career. (For the moment, let us leave aside the damage that may have been done as a result of the spectacular motorcycle crash he had in June 2006.) It will not be the last. Every concussion you have makes you substantially more likely to have another, and then another. Concussions are as basic to football as beer commercials and subliterate television commentary. You simply cannot play football without getting concussions, the destruction of the human body being as essential to football as it ever was to boxing, only a little more accidental. Repeated concussions should disqualify you physically from playing football the same way that someone struck blind is disqualified physically from driving a bus.

Make no mistake. There is no such thing as a “mild” concussion. Listen to how Roethlisberger described his “mild” concussion to Judy Battista of The New York Times: “It was scary, especially when you can’t feel your arms. When they scooped me up to put me on that pan, I couldn’t feel it.”

Wonderful.

In what moral universe does this make any sense to anyone?

Nice to have you back, Ben.

You moron.

This is not blowing out a knee, or pitching through a fraying rotator cuff, or running with a balky hamstring. This is messing with the fundamentals of what makes you an individual human being. Every year at the Super Bowl, they bring out the legends of the game, and it is an awful moment. It’s like those films of the Gettysburg reunions, with all the old men with their white hair, their white beards, and their missing limbs. Old NFL players walk as though all their joints are made of glass. But the really sad ones are the ones who plainly can no longer think clearly, who struggle to find words as though their tongues were made of wool and their brains of soggy peat. Some of them are simply old men who limp. The others are the old men who are not themselves any more.

Everyone in this business knows athletes who have had repeated concussions. They are written up and discussed the same way that any other injuries are. But they are not like any other injuries. They are different, and by such an order of magnitude that the glib libertarian arguments about a player and his body sound positively puerile. Right now, there are at least five or six players in any NFL locker room who will wind up with Alzheimer’s disease, or some other sort of dementia, years earlier than they might have otherwise simply because they have taken repeated concussions as part of doing their job. A 2002 study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that “mild repetitive head injuries” accelerate the process by which Alzheimer’s destroys the brain.

There’s that word again. “Mild.”

I do not think this word means what you think it means, Ben.

Let me explain it to you slowly, gentlemen. Alzheimer’s is not something with which you want to pick a fight. You will lose, badly, every time. You want to know what Alzheimer’s does to you? One day, for example, you might have some teeth that hurt, but your higher speech centers have been rendered useless, so you can’t tell anyone. You know what you do then? You sit on the sofa, in front of your entire family, including your young grandchildren, and pull your teeth out by the bloody roots with your fingers. That’s what happens.You blow out a knee, and you lose an attribute that allowed you to make a living. Concussions begin the process of robbing you of who you are.

Which brings us to the Boston Bruins and Patrice Bergeron. On Oct. 27, 2007, Bergeron was freight-trained into the boards by Randy Jones of the Philadelphia Flyers. He suffered a concussion so severe that he couldn’t get out of bed. He came back this year. Everybody cheered. Then, on Dec. 20, he got hit by Dennis Seidenberg of the Carolina Panthers and suffered another concussion.

Sadly, Patrice Bergeron’s career as a professional hockey player should be over.

Now.

Today.

OT columnist Charles P. Pierce is a Boston Globe Magazine staff writer.

15 comments so far...
  1. I agree with everything you're saying. They will likely be robbed of who they are years earlier than nature intended. That will still be in the future , however. Unfortunately, they see themselves as players. Period. Your well intended advice will rob them of who they are Now. Today. It's our society, the media, and sports pages who helped make these people "think" this way. We have to be careful what we create.

    Posted by Gary January 8, 09 03:09 PM
  1. Ummm...this is going to happen in any contact sport to any player. Should we stop playing or watching sports altogether because you're sensitive? The players know the risks.

    If a doctor has cleared a player, what right do you have to insult their analysis? The Steelers have a fantastic set of doctors for the sole fact of concussions on the team.

    Anyone who takes a writer's take over a doctor's take is a moron.

    Posted by tecmo January 8, 09 04:44 PM
  1. Mild concussion? More like spicy or chipotle fire if you ask me. Now if he gets a cool ranch concussion, he just might be okay.

    Either way, I think you're blowing it all out of proportion. I mean, look at Steve Young. He went on to a successful career as an NFL analyst. Did you see the video of that cup throwing incident? I think he finally ducked out of the way five hours later driving home.

    Posted by Iknowmyfirstnameissteven January 8, 09 05:06 PM
  1. Not to take away from the point of the article, I completely agree, but I don't think that the obvious irony of a Boston writer doing this piece and not mentioning Teddy Bruschi, equally as moronic as Ben, should be overlooked here.
    The Pats have their very own moron.

    Posted by AMH January 8, 09 05:19 PM
  1. Hopefully some of the medical realities are different (e.g. the increased risk for a second concussion after a first), but certainly has to make you wonder if Tedy Bruschi is equally, if not more, moronic.

    Posted by k January 8, 09 05:20 PM
  1. WHY YOU TALK ABOUT MY BRAIN SPOT OWIE?

    Posted by NNv January 8, 09 06:45 PM
  1. Charles Pierce, your a complete sissy. Don't even bother watching the games this weekend. I hear NBC will air figure skating and there are some great women's college basketball games on ESPN2. The thought of you watching me play on Sunday just makes we want to puke. So lay off.

    -#7


    Posted by Big Ben January 8, 09 07:58 PM
  1. Always, always, always take the advice of a newspaper columnist over your doctor! Notice the total lack of real documentation to support his theory. Nice job

    Posted by Tim Brophy January 8, 09 08:01 PM
  1. THIS from a man who wrote a book about Tom Brady.

    Posted by Cheaters Never Win January 8, 09 09:53 PM
  1. Maybe the pats* have some tap of these concussions the Steelers could review to help make a better decision.

    Posted by - 5 Rings No Cheating January 9, 09 08:52 AM
  1. Nice description of people sitting in front of their grandkids pulling out their teeth with their fingers because they played football. Your research data is six years old. More recent studies show that the increased likelihood of Alzheimer’s and Alzheimer’s related dementia associated with head injuries only comes into play when there is an accompanying period of unconsciousness lasting greater than thirty minutes. If you would have done your research you would have seen that according to documentation Ben was only knocked unconscious once back in Oct 2006, and that lasting only a few seconds.

    Plus, by your math, 11% of NFL veterans will develop some sort of mental disability earlier than most members of our population. If your claims were valid our nursing homes would be filled with our 60’s era hockey and football players. That is not the case. Any you may be interested to know that current estimates are that 15% of those 65 and older living in the United States are living with some sort of mental disability. Considering the athletes once again got to guess those years of strenuous work outs lowered their incident by 4%, no?

    If I may make a suggestion, next time you write about why a 26 year old star NFL QB should end his career substitute a victim of Alzheimer’s tearing their teeth out (by the bloody roots) have them pluck their eyes out of the sockets with one of their Grandkid’s crayons….far more shocking and disturbing, no?

    Posted by Cap'n A January 9, 09 09:46 AM
  1. Wow, it's junk like this that only reinforces the sad fact that all the good sports writers are long gone!

    Charles Pierce wasted much time and space by using his column to go on a hate filled witch hunt against Ben Roethlisberger. My God what did Ben Roethlisberger do to tick you off? Why tag Roethlisberger a moron and wish for an end to his career? Football is his livelihood, a violent livelihood, that pays him $100 million+ to absorb the physical abuse that comes with playing in the NFL.

    Injuries, including concussions, are a real part of contact sport. They always have been. Nearly every player in these violent sport leagues will experience the high impact collisions that will lead to concussions at least once, more likely several times, in their careers. What Pierce proposes is that players with concussions should end their careers. It is unrealistic. No, I take that back...It's MORONIC. If Pierce had his way there would be no more NFL or NHL.

    Maybe under the "Pierce Plan" the NFL could continue and we could eliminate injuries if they also eliminated tackling. Think of the money the Patriots would save on helmets and pads if we switched to flag football. Same goes for hockey. No more smashing up against the boards. Instead the NHL can replace the glass with bubble wrap! It's cheaper, safer and everyone loves the popping sound of bubble wrap...fun for the whole family! Maybe Mr. Pierce will do us all a favor and step down from his post. Do I need to remind you of the link between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and writers?

    As a physician, I find it insulting that you call the highly educated and trained medical professionals at UPMC morons! You're talking about the world's foremost experts in concussions and head trauma injuries. They are the ones that have developed the testing to screen NFL players after a concussion. If they say Ben Roethlisberger, or any other player is clear to play, they ARE fine. And yes there are indeed varying degrees of concussions.

    It's obvious Pierce has done little research. The helmet that Roethlisberger rejected has NOT been clinically proven to reduce concussions. In fact, it has been shown to increase the odds of injury due to a reduction in peripheral vision and they have been known to come flying off much easier than traditional helmets. If this wonder helmet worked everyone would be wearing them!

    As for the degenerative neurological claims, again, a lot of bad information. Every person is affected differently by concussions. There are countless retired players that have suffered multiple concussions that are living very healthy and normal lives. Google a little more next time before you try to link Alzheimer’s with concussions.

    To imply that Ben Roethlisberger should retire after three concussions to avoid Alzheimer is ahh..ahem, MORONIC! Are you also suggesting Tom Brady hang 'em up because the blown knee will result in his leg eventually falling off?

    Charles Pierce can tune into something safer like ping pong, synchronized swimming or badmiton. Me? I'll join MILLIONS of other sports fans and marvel as tough guys like Ben Roethisburger and Teddy Bruschi bash their brains in on Sundays.

    Posted by Sports M.D. January 9, 09 11:26 AM
  1. I think where most are losing the point, is that a concussion is a bruise on your BRAIN. This isn't a head injury, these are severe hits. When I saw Bergeron crumple to the ice for the second time in as many seasons I feared for his life, his future. Do I think they need to stop hitting or fighting in football or hockey? No, but the leagues need to take the necessary precautions to protect the players that help them make their money.

    In Bergerons case, I would hope he selects the retirement route. Not because I don't want to see him play again (I do), but because if he doesn't he's putting his life at further risk. No immenent on the ice death, but his life span will be shortened by the damage done.

    I have to agree with your assessment, Roethlisberger is a moron. Anyone who tells you a bruise on your brain is just a mild injury and you can live a normal life with no long term (key long term) side effects is completely daft.

    Posted by B'sFan January 9, 09 11:53 AM
  1. I think B's Fan is the one missing the point. There are indeed real things such as mild concussions. Based on the test results for Roethlisberger he will have no lingering effects from the hit. Now or in the future. So he will continue on with a "normal life with no long term side effects." There is no correlation that suggests Bergeron's life span will be shortened. Watching Gray's Anatomy does not qualify you as a medical expert.

    If you believe otherwise, perhaps you can go to medical school like the "moron" doctors who cleared Roethlisberger and study neurology. When you graduate as a real medical expert you can come back and share with us what you have learned.

    Posted by Sports M.D. January 9, 09 04:52 PM
  1. Charles P. Pierce is not brave.

    Charles P. Pierce is a moron.

    Any boss who clears him to write is a moron.

    Any boss who sends him out to write is a moron.

    Any writer, TV pundit, former player, or fan who agrees with his writing is a moron.

    Charles P. Pierce's career as a professional writer should be over.

    Today.

    This minute.

    Are we all clear?

    Great. We can continue.

    Ben Roethelisberger came out sunday and performed in one of his best games. Not statistacally the best, but his decision making was top notch. He led the Steelers to a dominant win over the Chargers. It's writers like you that make sports fans like me sick to my stomach. either do your research and stop lying or go find a job a t kinkos. Eat your words with humble pie as the Steelers march towards Tampa you dolt.

    Posted by Anonymous January 13, 09 06:20 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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