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There are many reasons to love this time of year.  Christmas and New Year’s festivities are underway.  The cinemas are full of higher quality content than they have been in months.  There’s a crispness in the air that many, including myself, look forward to all year.

And the NFL is narrowing down to the best of the best as the playoffs fast approach.

Last evening I was watching the Philadelphia Eagles as they took another roller coaster ride through an incredibly important game against the New York Giants.  It was a fun game to watch, but I kept hearing about several players on both teams who were wither just returning to the field or were not playing due to concussions suffered in previous weeks.

Now, anyone who reads any of the sports media has heard Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, among others harping on the need to get to the bottom of the almost epidemic-like spread of concussions through the NFL.  And it has gotten more than a little out of control.  I understand concussions are not new to the sport.  I have clear memories of Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers suffering many of them in my youth.  But, in recent years it seems like the number of them is increasing exponentially.

Then, this morning I read an column by Bob Greene.  The responses he got to the questions he posed to veteran NFL broadcasters like Al Michaels and Bob Costas seemed to explain the mentality that was creating at least part of the issue.  And, while Costas makes a good point about the quality of the equipment the players are using, there are many reports which suggest players are not necessarily using the best helmets available because they have difficulty adjusting to them.

These factors would make things dangerous enough, but there is something a bit more subtle going on as well.  The NFL is the culture of the tough guy.  Players regularly “play through the pain” and hide any number of injuries for a variety of reasons.  Maybe it’s because the other players and coaches look at them like they are letting the team down.  Maybe it’s because they have a hot young rookie just looking to take their starting spot.  Maybe they just can’t handle standing on the sidelines in a tracksuit while their brothers in arms battle on the gridiron.

This would be bad enough with a dislocated finger, torn ligament, or other such injury.  Traumatic brain injury just makes it worse.

I love the NFL.  And, I admit seeing Ray Lewis flatten a quarterback, Troy Polalamu manhandle a receiver, or Julius Peppers tear through an offensive line is one of the exciting parts of the game.  But, I want to see these guys play full careers and still be able to have productive lives afterward.  Goodell is making strides, but his program is flawed by the fact that it depends on players reporting their injuries or those of a teammate.

Something needs to be done about the culture of hiding injuries.  I understand we can’t expect guys who pride themselves on their ability to become a screaming projectile of pure destruction to report every little ouchie.  But, by the same token the code of silence on major injuries has to be done away with. 

There will always be walking wounded in the NFL, it’s the nature of the game.  But, when crippling injury is not treated because of an ill-considered code of silence someone has to speak up.

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