The NFL needs more players to be like Ben Roethlisberger.
Rather than staying silent about a head injury, as so many players continue to do, the Pittsburgh Steelersquarterback told team doctors he was having double vision after a hard high-low hit in Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Never mind that there were only three minutes left in the game and the Steelers had just pulled within two. Roethlisberger made the right decision, one that hopefully will resonate with others around the league.
“The brain is nothing to mess with,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday during his radio show on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan.
“I was literally on the sideline probably for the first time maybe in my life thinking about my family and not going back into the game because I did not feel quite right,” he said. “It was definitely a moment, that’s why I was honest with the trainers and doctors and wanted to tell them exactly what I was going through.”
Whether Roethlisberger actually suffered a concussion remains a topic of debate. He said Tuesday that he didn’t, calling it a “traumatic ocular migraine” instead. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin disputed that shortly after, and said Roethlisberger is still going through the NFL’s concussion protocol.
But that’s not the issue.
For as much progress as there’s been in concussion awareness — and make no mistake, we’re light years ahead of the days when players who got their “bell rung” needed only a quick whiff of smelling salts before returning to the game — one of the biggest hurdles remains getting players to acknowledge the injury.
In survey after survey, players say they would hide a concussion or try to play through it. A survey of NFL players conducted by USA TODAY Sports at the end of the 2013 season found they were far more concerned with knee injuries than concussions.
Part of that is competitiveness and pride, the idea that it’s a sign of weakness to leave the field. Part of that is that players — all people, really — in their teens and 20s believe they’re invincible. Traumatic brain injuries are something that happen to “other” people. Or, if they are affected, it won’t be for many, many years.
All of which is foolish. And dangerous.
“You can have, when you’re done playing, knee replacements and hip replacements and all kinds of surgeries,” Roethlisberger said. “There’s no brain replacement surgery.”
Granted, as a two-time Super Bowl champion and Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback, Roethlisberger has more job security than, say, Case Keenum. If he self-reports a head injury, he knows his job — and his paycheck — will still be there when he’s healthy. The same can’t be said for Keenum, the St. Louis Rams backup who stayed in a game two weeks ago despite an obvious concussion.
But attitudes have to begin shifting somewhere, and Roethlisberger is one of the few players with the power to drive that change.
“People know me, I’ll play through any injury. I’ve played through a lot of injuries,” Roethlisberger said. “But the brain is not an injury that you want to play with and play through. I think more people need to understand that.
“That brain is too valuable to mess with,” he added. “I’m proud of myself and I think more guys should do it and not try to be tough guys when it comes to the brain.”
No doctor, researcher or slide of damaged brain tissue could have made the point better.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.