In an era of so much uncertainty on the NFL issue of player safety, the Detroit Lions are setting the right example by erring on the side of caution in the handling of RB Jahvid Best's concussion issues.
It was meant to be determined on Friday whether Best could be removed from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list and be declared active on Monday. However, the test results have yet to conclusive, according to a report by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Best has sustained three concussions that have been officially diagnosed, but the definition of a concussion is up for plenty of debate.
Also sparking plenty of debate is how the concussion issue has rocked the world of professional football.
This has occurred through player suicides due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTC), lawsuits by retired players for being misled about concussion information and outspokenness by modern players demanding more answers.
In an age where patience is no longer necessarily a virtue, the Lions and Best are showing uncommon discipline and foresight.
The NFL is more popular than ever. The league has marketed itself in an unprecedented way and the level of entertainment is hard to match. This market demand for more football even brought forward the idea of an 18-game season, even though it increases the chances that a player will be susceptible to a life-altering head injury.
Football is a brutal, violent game.
We don't even fully understand how harmful it can be, especially in the case of traumatic brain injuries. The circumstances are different in nearly every individual case, and the answers that will hopefully be found sooner than later may be haunting.
That is why the Lions are showing such wisdom with the Best situation.
Sure, Best is easily the team's most explosive runner in an offense starved of playmakers in the backfield. The fans are demanding a quality product be put on the field, and the franchise employees' livelihoods depend upon the team's success. Detroit sits at 1-3, on the brink of losing its grip on the season. They will once again be without Best in Philadelphia in a make-or-break Week 6 showdown.
It would be easy to allow a player like Best to tough it out if he feels up to the task, especially when he's only about a week away from "full" recovery. In fact, had Best not had a history of concussions—or not personally addressed the issue and attempted to play on—he may have returned to the lineup much sooner.
The scariness of Best's first concussion, which occurred in college at Cal, didn't really allow for those hypothetical circumstances.
Plenty of players—current and retired—have admitted to playing through what they thought was a concussion. That includes future Hall of Famers such as Troy Polamalu, Brett Favre, and even Best's teammate, Calvin Johnson.
Another convenient caveat to the issue of player safety is just what makes it so scary—the damage isn't fully understood and is dynamic on a case by case basis. The tests that doctors conduct on players now will probably be totally dated a decade from now.
The Detroit Lions franchise is catering to the human interest of Best and his long-term well-being rather than the organized interests that dominate the politics of the National Football League.
Imagine preventing a star player from trusting his own biased judgment to walk back out on the field even when he may have a rather serious head injury. The aftermath of such an action is so unpredictable, especially in the heat of competitive battle when the ultimate goal is to win.
In Johnson's case, as documented by Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com, head coach Jim Schwartz felt the staff adequately evaluated the receiver when he came to the sideline after a Week 4 hit from Minnesota LB Chad Greenway:
Our evaluation was (that Johnson) was not concussed. He was thoroughly checked. We were very strong in our evaluation. ... We're very strong in our evaluation, and as an organization, we have some credibility when it comes to concussions. So just leave it there.
Schwartz notes the credibility factor with the Lions. That had to be referring to Best.
But how many organizations are adhering to a high standard? It's pure speculation, and it's not to imply better or worse treatment by any organization.
There is that saying in the NFL, though: It's a business.
Such a portrait of the NFL seems to demean the league. But really, that's not fair to say, because the concussion dilemma is quite complicated.
Here's the bottom line: On an issue such as head injuries in football, there are a lot of grey areas and information yet to be discovered. Throwing a concussed player back in the game may be a more common occurrence than we can imagine, depending on one's definition of a concussion. The strategy could be viewed as reckless by some, but attributed to a lack of prior knowledge by others.
It's hard to police grown men who play a violent, high-contact sport for a living and have grown up in an era where science is just beginning to realize the grim ramifications of a big-time NFL collision.
By holding Best out until he's absolutely positive of his health—at least perceptibly—a Lions franchise that may be oft maligned on the field in its history is certainly setting a fine example off of it these days.
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