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Mitchell: Warrior mentality puts players at risk

POSTED: July 28, 2012 7:14 p.m.

They are modern-day gladiators.

Football players who use pads as shields and sheer size and strength as their swords.

They take the field of battle prepared to do whatever it takes to triumph over their opponents.

Whatever it takes.

But what if “whatever it takes” is too much? When will players decide that their long-term health is more important than the game they are playing?

The truth is, a number of players don’t see that line.

Just a week ago, Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu admitted that he has hidden concussions during his career in order to stay on the field.

In statements made on the Dan Patrick Show, the safety said he has had eight or nine recorded concussions, but that if you counted every time an individual got their “bell rung” (which doctors and trainers do), the number would be somewhere between “50 to 100 concussions a year.”

Those repeated hits have serious repercussions, like the potential for serious brain disease and dementia.

But for Polamalu, and a number of other players in leagues across the country, it’s just the cost of success, a price they are willing to pay.

As a fan of the game, I appreciate the dedication to their craft. I constantly marvel at a player’s ability to take a hit, get back up and remain on the field.

That’s what we look for in our teams. If a player takes too many plays off, we question their toughness and whether they have “whatever it takes” to help our teams win.

But it’s about time that we all take a step back, players included, and recognize what this warrior mentality does to the players and their families.

Those repeated hits to the head, whether diagnosed as concussions or not, have serious long-term effects. On Friday, an autopsy of former Falcons safety Ray Easterling, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in April, found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Dave Duerson’s came back with the same results after he committed suicide. So did Andre Waters’.

We await the results from Junior Seau.

It’s become a broken record.

When we hear about a former athlete who has committed suicide, whether in football, boxing or professional wrestling, we expect the autopsy to come back positive for CTE.

I’m no doctor. I’m not saying that one directly causes the other.

But the evidence is convincing.

And I wonder: Is it really worth these risks to succeed in a game?

A game.

No matter how much we love the sport, no matter how closely we follow it each year, that’s all it is.

And if we step back and view it as such, risking life and limb hardly seems logical.

Atlanta Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said that he isn’t worried about being broken down when his career comes to an end.

“I’ve stayed relatively healthy throughout my playing career to this point, so barring anything crazy, I should be able to play with my kids when I’m 40, 45,” he told The Times.

This is the case for most players. Many will never suffer after their career has come to an end.

But some will.

It’s every player’s right to do what they want with their bodies, but it’s time for education and awareness to make sure they know the potential consequences of their actions.

A group of about 2,500 individuals claim in a lawsuit against the NFL that they were not provided with that education about head trauma. They claim they went onto the field of battle unaware of the potential risks those repeated hits presented.

We need to do whatever it takes to make sure future generations understand the risk they are taking every time they step on the field.

Whatever it takes.

David Mitchell is a sports writer for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/gtimesdmitchell.


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