Max and Jake Wray play offensive tackle for Franklin (Tenn.) High School, or at least they used to do so. The two were suspended from the football team in a dispute with coaches. The young men claim the coaches encouraged them to conceal injuries, predominantly concussions, in order to continue to play. Did it happen? I can’t say for certain in this case, but I can tell you with absolute certitude that such behavior is happening all over the United States; from high school to the NFL.
In the last few years a great deal of medical evidence has come to light about the long-term dangers of concussions. Players now must be given a series of tests when it is suspected they have suffered such an injury. They are not allowed to return to the playing field until they can pass these protocols.
If you listen to people who have implemented this rule in the NFL and other leagues, it was done to protect the players from horrific danger. I’m sure there is some truth to this. I’m also sure the main reasons leagues have created these rules is because parents were pulling their kids out of football in remarkable numbers. The very sport was threatened and that is a greater concern to those who make a living off football than the health of largely disposable players. It may hurt to hear that, but it’s the truth.
There is no way to know for absolute certain if the Wray brothers were encouraged to conceal injuries. Coaches and administrators are adept at avoiding doing anything that could be so proven. They don’t say: “If there is any chance you are concussed speak up.” What they say instead is: “The team needs you. Your friends need you. If you have a concussion, or think you have one, and the doctor confirms it, I have to pull you out of the game, that’s what the stupid rules say. Can you get back in there?”
I played sports. I wanted to stay in the game and I was only a bench-warmer. I wasn’t the star of the team whose presence was necessary to victory. The pressure coaches can put on players and that which said athletes can put on themselves is enormous.
Let us examine the Tom Brady situation. His wife announced he suffered concussions but did not reveal them to coaches. We can choose to disbelieve her. We can choose to accept Brady’s story about some sort of miscommunication. However, if you think this sort of thing isn’t happening every day in high school football, you are living in a fantasy world. In the NFL there are people in the booth looking for players who show signs of concussions and they still sometimes sneak back into the game. At the high school level there are largely no safeguards. It’s up to the players to report it themselves and the coaches can discourage such self-reporting in any number of ways.
Although I have no proof, I absolutely believe the Wray brothers and their parents. I know that such behavior is happening all across the sporting world from football, to hockey, to gymnastics, and beyond. Players have always been encouraged to rub some dirt on the injury and get back in there.
We can blame the kids and that’s fine. They should self-report and if they choose to conceal an injury they must bear some of the responsibility. That being said, it is the job of the coaching staff to look after their charges. This is far more important than winning the game. That’s something we’ve seem to lost sight of in the athletic environment of today. Winning means promotions and better salaries for coaches. It means scholarships for the kids.
There was a time when building character, caring for people, and simply playing our best was far more important than winning the game. It seems those days are behind us. The coaches choose to protect themselves, not the players.
By Tom Liberman
Tom Liberman is a regular fellow from St. Louis, Mo., who enjoys spending time with his wonderful family and great friends. He writes Sword and Sorcery fantasy novels in his spare time.