There are many things the NFL does well. The handling of its injured players has never been one of them.
Bodies in, bodies out: That's professional football's unofficial motto. Always has been, always will be. It's safer to work around spent nuclear fuel rods in a bikini than it is to have a long football career.
|It's no coincidence that this concussion addendum comes after the House Judiciary Committee hammered Roger Goodell. (Getty Images)|
Even when the NFL tries to lessen the carnage -- and slowly, oh-so slowly, they have over many decades -- they somehow screw it up.
Case in point: The NFL just announced teams will soon be required by the NFL to supplement their medical staffs with an independent neurologist or neurosurgeon that will specifically monitor concussions.
"... each club is identifying local neurosurgeons or neurologists who will be available to provide an independent 'second opinion' in cases involving players who have had a concussion and been removed from a game or practice," the NFL announced. "Before these players return to practice or play, they must be evaluated and cleared by both their team doctor and the independent neurologist or neurosurgeon."
That sounds great, right? Finally, the league is looking out for concussed players.
Except there's one problem, and it has to do with the word "independent."
You see, the doctors won't really be "independent." They'll be paid by the teams.
Is the NFL trying to pull a Bill Clinton? Depends on what the meaning of "independent" is?
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, in an e-mail to CBSSports.com, explained, "Yes, per the CBA, the teams and league pay for all player medical expenses. This is not a new concussion policy. It is expanding the use of specialists in the area of concussions so that every team can [have] a highly qualified neurologist or neurosurgeon for its players that will be approved [by] the league and the union."
I've known Aiello for 20 years and he is a truthful guy and good person, but the fact remains these specialists won't have much of an impact -- or truly look out for the players -- unless they are wholly independent. And that means unless they are paid by some other entity than the teams themselves.
The NFL shouldn't use the CBA as a shield on this issue. The CBA isn't the Magna Carta. It's a living organism that the NFL and players have occasionally circumvented before and will again.
The players should create their own pool of money for concussion and head-trauma specialists, CBA be damned.
Any time a player would suffer a head injury, he'd be required to go see this specialist, a truly independent specialist, who doesn't earn a paycheck from the NFL or its teams.
What the league has done is create something that superficially looks comprehensive but is built upon a bed of straw. A specialist paid by a franchise will have the team's and league's interest first, not the player's. Of course that's the case. Next lesson: Consuming too much tequila makes you drunk.
Some are hailing the NFL's policy shift, but that's because they still believe the specialists are independent. Nothing's really changed except who's doing the kowtowing for the NFL.
This policy addendum is really a response to the ass-whuppin' commissioner Roger Goodell received before the House Judiciary Committee last month, in which the NFL was blasted for downplaying the effects of concussions and was compared to tobacco executives. The NFL had to do something in response, and this concussion addendum was just the ticket.
"I don't want to call it forced, but it's been strongly urged because of the awareness of the issue these days," Chester Pitts, a lineman and union representative for the Houston Texans, told the New York Times. "When you have Congress talking about the antitrust exemption and them calling them the tobacco industry, that's pretty big. But it's a good thing it's transpiring."
Even some union members themselves are fooled because I don't think they truly comprehend the doctors aren't independent.
Having another medical viewpoint with a concussed player is a nice initial step, but having a non-independent specialist that's paid by the teams is like asking a hooker to evaluate your performance.
Not that I have any experience with that.
But I digress.
The Times reported that when Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook went to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for a third-party consultation over his second concussion in as many weeks, the group of specialists included the Steelers' team neurosurgeon as well as the league's director of neurological testing.
That had to be a bit intimidating for Westbrook. How was he supposed to have confidence that these two experts -- one who works for the NFL, the other for an NFL team -- had his best interests in mind?
The new policy might make things slightly better, but not much.
It'll mostly be concussed business as usual.
Bodies in, bodies out.