Response to Critics

After a busy week in NFL news I wanted to take a minute to respond to the critics of the recent comments that I made regarding my boys and the game of football.  First, let me say that it always disappoints me that we can no longer respect others opinions, choose to disagree and use them as a means of dialogue to better understand the differing thoughts and concerns we may have, and from where these differing views stem.  In this day and age, it seems as if many take the approach, “It’s ok to share your opinion, as long as it agrees with mine, but if not keep it to yourself or you will be attacked.”  I hope all who read this will take a moment the next time they disagree with another and try to look at the topic from the others point of view before they attack that individual.

My first point in regards to the statement of Merrill Hoge saying, “The issue is not with concussions/head trauma, but with the treatment of those concussions”, is that I respectfully disagree.  I believe the biggest and most prevalent issue IS the concussions themselves.  We must continue, regardless of the sport, to work to limit the number of concussions, whether by better equipment, changing the way our games are played, or adjusting the intention we have as players when playing the games.  This IS the MOST important, but not only, issue we are facing.

I have spent the last 22 years of my life living with a child that has a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  I understand the challenges that come with having an injury to the brain and although my son is a tremendous blessing, I am saddened by the daily struggles he has to face due to the injury.  So I hope all can understand my fear of placing any of my children into an environment where the speculation of head trauma is in the forefront.

With that being said, I fully agree with Mr. Hoge’s point that a huge issue with concussions is the way that they have been treated over the years.  And although the treatment of concussions has gotten better in recent years, I still believe we have a long ways to go in that department.

It begins with the difficult task of dealing with an issue that is NOT an exact science.  Many very intelligent people have studied concussions and there are few constants when it comes to the brain.   How one person’s brain responds can be very different than another, so it makes the process much more difficult to diagnose and treat.

But, I love that fact that at the NFL level they have changed the protocol so that anyone showing concussion like symptoms cannot re-enter the game.  I also appreciate the fact that last season my 12yr old played Pop Warner football and they made each kid get a baseline test done (a test used to analyze brain function in a normal state, so when someone suffers a concussion they can have a baseline for that persons ‘normal’ function and can compare the two.  Then they use the baseline results as the first step in knowing if a player is prepared to continue participation.).

Many things are being done to help in the process of treating concussions and not placing someone back into an environment where more damage can be done.

I will also point out that many believe the long term effects of concussion are created two ways.  First, with the initial blow and injury, varying based on the level of the head trauma suffered.  Second, the continual blows to the affected area before complete healing is done.  For instance, when those that suffer a blow to the head are put back into a game or never let someone know they have been injured and continue to ‘bang their heads’.  These subsequent blows are believed to be responsible for a portion of long term and lingering effects.

What I believe Mr. Hoge was saying in his statement is that this secondary point is vital in helping prevent long-term effects one may have due to concussions.  A point to which I agree 100%.

But, unfortunately, I still believe this secondary aspect is the most difficult to treat.  The reason being, as mentioned above, it is an inexact science.  What may be ok for one person does not always mean it is ok for another.  I have suffered a few concussions in my day and have had to treat each differently.  Some I felt as if I was fine and went right back to playing as soon as I passed the baseline test.  Yet, another I passed the baseline test with flying colors, but I felt personally that I wasn’t 100% healed.  I couldn’t really put my finger on what the lingering effects were, but I knew that I wasn’t ‘right’.  As you can imagine, this is where things get particularly difficult.

Because at this point it becomes a combination of awareness by the medical officials and the player to make sure the individual truly is safe to return to the field.  Medical officials can do all they know to do and can clear a player unbeknownst to them if the player is suffering from any lingering effects.  On the other side a player could simply take the advice of the medical staff being cleared and passing the baseline test as meaning they are good to go.  So you take all these differing positions of thought and then add the element of  ‘pressure’ and all of the sudden there is a great deal of room for error.

In a world where perception is reality, you can imagine the pressure in professional sports to get back on the field.  The pressure can be personal in that a player doesn’t want to let down his teammates by sitting out a game when everyone says he is cleared to play.  The pressure can be peer driven.  The ambiguous looks and feelings one derives from coaches and players that say, “you need to be on the field for us”.  Whether these are real or just thought up doesn’t really matter, because either way they weigh upon an athletes mind.  Then there is the pressure for many marginal players that if they don’t get out there and play their job will be given to another person and their career could be over.  But, probably the most demanding pressure is that those playing football are supposed to be TOUGH.  And we all know that tough means having the ability to play through injury.  Those that place their pain aside and lineup next to their teammates for battle gain instant recognition from their team.  Nobody in this business wants to be recognized by his teammates/organization as ‘soft’.

So although it sounds pretty simple to say all we need to do is treat concussions better than we have in the past, it is much more difficult to ensure this is going to a happen.  It becomes vital that medical staffs continue to proceed with caution in each and every situation – regardless of the position or status of the particular player.  And on the flip side it becomes just as vital for the player to be fully forthcoming with the medical staff/organization on where they feel they are in the recovery process and with any ongoing effects they may be suffering.  (Note: this is something very difficult for a professional player who is very aware of his body and what normal feels like, but much more difficult, in my opinion, for a young child who does not fully understand what exactly they are feeling or suffering from.)

I personally understand how difficult it is to handle all of these varying aspects of concussions and pressure, and in the midst of it all try to make the ‘right’ decision on what you ought to do as a player.  I know there have been times when I have fallen prey to the pressures of the business and then another time when I was able to withstand the questions and make the right decision for me personally.  It would seem that one would be much easier than the other, but I speak from experience when I say they were equally difficult.

Here sit your two options: To feel on one hand that you are letting down those closest to you off the field, but appeasing the powers that be (org, coaches, teammates) or to feel as if you are letting down the powers that be, but making the best decision for you personally both immediately and for the future.  Can you understand the pressure or difficulty of making this decision?

And although we have made some wonderful strides in the area of concussions/treatment of concussions I do not agree with Mr. Hoge in his statement that. ‘these things will NEVER happen again in the NFL’ in regards to the mistreatment of a concussion.  I do agree that there are more protocols in place to protect from mistreatment, but we saw last year in the situation with Colt McCoy that these protocols don’t always work to protect the player.  Colt was placed back in a game after suffering from a concussion, resulting in his father speaking out against the Browns medical staff.  Now I am not saying that the Browns staff knowingly mistreated the situation, but it just shows that are protocols are not fool proof.

So I like to think, due to my circumstances, that I am both educated and informed to a degree on the subject.

But, as a football player and a fan of the game I want my kids to play the game that I am so passionate about.  They currently play football and there are few things that bring me more joy than watching them play and getting excited about the game I love.  But, at the same time I am constantly concerned about my kids and the violence of the game of football.  I worry about them suffering head trauma and developing any long-term issues as a result of that injury.

So yes, I love this game and all the things that it taught me and afforded me along the way, but regardless of all that I have a responsibility to my kids.  I cannot be oblivious to the risks of the game of football simply because it was good to me.  So as my kids continue to play I worry about them every time they get hit, just as my wife worried about me every time I got hit in my 12 years in the league.

Now, I don’t want to scare anyone about this great game and I will continue to support all of the adjustments being made by the NFL (& other levels) to increase player safety in hopes that the game of football has a long and healthy run as the world’s greatest team sport.  But, we must proceed with caution and be informed of how to handle these situations if we ever find ourselves in them (as Mr. Hoge so eloquently stated).

For me personally I wonder what my future will be like after a long career playing this game and my thoughts towards my kids are reflective of that.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if I will ever be able to get past those things… only time will tell.

Then on the final note that was expressed by Amani Toomer & Merrill Hoge (and maybe countless others) that my saying I would rather my kids not play was ‘throwing the NFL under the bus’, I fully disagree.

I don’t know why it is so hard for people to understand how I can BOTH love the game and be grateful for what it did for me and at the same time have concern for my kids in regards to playing it.  Why does it have to be one or the other?

I love the X’s and O’s of the game.  I love the strategy of the game of football.  I love the competitiveness of playing the greatest team sport in the world, where 11 guys must come together at the same time for the team to have success.  I love the chess match within each game, the moves and countermoves and the pressure filled responses that dictate who will be the victor.  I love the discipline and hard work that is required to succeed in any sport, especially the game of football.

Yet, at the same time I am fully aware of the one aspect that I do not love… the violence.

And as I weigh all the tremendous benefits and joys of playing, it is difficult for me feel they outweigh the chances/risks that go with them, in regards to my children.  And this is a critical point: for my children.  I say that because obviously I felt completely different during my 12-year career.  There was no doubt in my mind that for ME, the benefits far outweighed the risks and I would never second guess my involvement in the game.  It has shaped me into who I am today and has provided me with many benefits for which I will be forever grateful.  Thus, the reason I love the game and have so much passion for it.  Things that I believe will never change… therefore I am extremely comfortable representing the NFL now, and hopefully for many more years, in the media, as I did during my playing career.

I believe I have a lot to offer to fans and players of the game due to my being educated and informed on most things football.  Therefore, I will continue to passionately share my feelings, both on the areas that I love and the concerns I have, to hopefully generate continual dialogue on how we can improve all things football moving into the future.

So I don’t believe I threw anyone ‘under the bus’, but rather spoke honestly about the concerns that I (and many others) have as a PARENT in regards to football.  I believe these concerns are the reason the commissioner of the NFL continues to do everything in his power to increase the safety of the NFL’s greatest commodity: the players.  Moves that I fully support across the board, because I believe at the end of the day, protecting the game and it’s players will ALWAYS be the MOST important thing.

Let’s move forward with this great game, but let’s continue to proceed with caution so as to preserve the ‘greatest team sport in the world’ and all of it’s participants, from the current players to future generations (which may or may not be my kids????).

Thanks for taking the time to read and I look forward to any thoughts, dialogue or debate that can keep us moving towards a brighter future.

God Bless,  KW

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