Kurt Warner headed to a meeting with Arizona Cardinals medical staff and coaches before Sunday’s game wrestling with the question of whether to be honest about the post-concussion symptoms he was experiencing.
“Do I want to stretch the truth a little bit? Do I want to not tell them everything so I could play?” he wondered.
“I know I could dictate it,” he said Monday. “But then I had to go, ‘What are you thinking?’ Because I know this is bigger than that.”
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The issue of concussions is front and center in the NFL, illustrated starkly Sunday when the two quarterbacks from last season’s Super Bowl sat out – after saying during the week they planned to play despite sustaining head injuries the previous game.
Warner didn’t play against the Tennessee Titans, and the Cardinals lost. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play against the Baltimore Ravens, and the Steelers lost.
Their absences came against the backdrop of increased attention to the issue, from studies highlighting the dangers of repeated head injuries to several statements issued by the NFL on how teams should handle concussions.
“We weren’t involved in the decisions (regarding Warner and Roethlisberger). … But there’s no question there’s been a culture change in sports regarding concussions,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “Everybody is much more aware and more conservative in the way they’re managing them. And that’s a good thing.”
Aiello said league officials wouldn’t hesitate to question a team if they saw indications that concussions guidelines were possibly not being followed, even without a complaint from somebody within the club.
But as Warner’s comments emphasize, all the harrowing stories and the policy changes won’t completely solve the problem if players aren’t honest about their symptoms. Thirty of 160 NFL players surveyed by The Associated Press from Nov. 2-15 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion.
“The players have to raise their hand and say, ‘You know what? I got hit and I don’t feel 100 percent,”‘ commissioner Roger Goodell said recently.
That seems to be happening.
“I’m sure all the reports that are out there about concussions and the long-term effect, that those things weigh in your mind heavier than maybe they did five or six years ago,” Warner said.
In Philadelphia, Eagles coach Andy Reid acknowledged that the increased attention to the issue is on his mind, too, as dynamic receiver DeSean Jackson recovers from his own concussion.
“I know a lot is being said about concussions,” Reid said Monday. “We are as conscious as they come with concussions. We are going to do everything within our power to get (Jackson) the proper treatment and diagnosis.”
In 1990, Steelers coach Chuck Noll challenged team neurologist Dr. Joseph Maroon to provide an objective assessment of whether a player should be cleared to return from a concussion. From that conversation emerged the ImPACT Test, now used across the NFL, which measures functions such as reaction time, memory and concentration.
Maroon believes the test catches the “great majority” of players still affected by a concussion. But some will pass the test and still experience symptoms such as headache or nausea that indicate a problem. And those players could choose not to report their symptoms.
Maroon said he has noticed players becoming more likely to admit their symptoms over the last couple of years.
“The hardest thing is for the player to make that decision, that you second-guess yourself,” Warner said. “You want to play. You want to consider going into those meetings and not telling the full truth because you know you can sway it one way or another to play.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Roethlisberger passed neurological tests all week but started experiencing headaches when he practiced. Maroon recommended Saturday that the quarterback sit out. He said he has never been overruled by Noll, Bill Cowher or Tomlin.
“We respect his expert medical opinion,” Tomlin said Sunday.
“I wanted to go out there and play tonight,” Roethlisberger said. “But the doctors told me it wasn’t a good decision. Then, the coaches told me the same thing. So I wasn’t playing.”
Still, the reaction of some of his Steelers teammates shows how slow the process is. Receiver Hines Ward called Sunday’s matchup with the Ravens “almost like a playoff game.” He said he could see some players saying, “It’s just a concussion. I’ve played with a concussion before.”