- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ask Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew whether he would try to play through a concussion or yank himself from a game, and he’ll provide a straightforward answer.

“Hide it,” the NFL’s leading rusher said.

“The bottom line is: You have to be able to put food on the table. No one’s going to sign or want a guy who can’t stay healthy. I know there will be a day when I’m going to have trouble walking. I realize that,” Jones-Drew said. “But this is what I signed up for. Injuries are part of the game. If you don’t want to get hit, then you shouldn’t be playing.”

Other players say they would do the same: Hide it.

In a series of interviews about head injuries with The Associated Press over the last two weeks, 23 of 44 NFL players _ slightly more than half _ said they would try to conceal a possible concussion rather than pull themselves out of a game. Some acknowledged they already have. Players also said they should be better protected from their own instincts: More than two-thirds of the group the AP talked to wants independent neurologists on sidelines during games.

The AP spoke to a cross-section of players _ at least one from each of the 32 NFL teams _ to gauge whether concussion safety and attitudes about head injuries have changed in the past two years of close attention devoted to the issue. The group included 33 starters and 11 reserves; 25 players on offense and 19 on defense; all have played at least three seasons in the NFL.

The players tended to indicate they are more aware of the possible long-term effects of jarring hits to their heads than they once were. In a sign of the sort of progress the league wants, five players said that while they would have tried to conceal a concussion during a game in 2009, now they would seek help.

“You look at some of the cases where you see some of the retired players and the issues that they’re having now, even with some of the guys who’ve passed and had their brains examined _ you see what their brains look like now,” said Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher, the NFL’s leading tackler. “That does play a part in how I think now about it.”

But his teammate, backup fullback Mike Sellers, said he’s hidden concussions in the past and would “highly doubt” that any player would willingly take himself out of a game.

“You want to continue to play. You’re a competitor. You’re not going to tell on yourself. There have been times I’ve been dinged, and they’ve taken my helmet from me, and … I’d snatch my helmet back and get back on the field,” Sellers said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t say anything because a lot of guys wouldn’t think anything during the game, until afterward, when they have a headache or they can’t remember certain things.”

San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith captured a popular sentiment: Players know of the potential problems, yet would risk further damage.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if (you have) a concussion, you’re probably damaging your brain a little bit. Just like if you sprain your wrist a bunch, you’re going to have some wrist problems down the road. Yeah, I’d still play through it. It’s part of it. It’s part of the game,” Smith said. “I think if you’re noticeably messed up, yeah, they’ll take you out. But if you’ve just got some blurry vision, I’d say that’s the player’s call. And most guys _ 99 percent of guys in the NFL _ are going to play through it.”

Smith said he sustained one concussion in high school (“You don’t know who you are,” is how he described it) and another in college (“Walking around the whole time, but I don’t remember anything until six hours later”).

The NFL likes to say that views about concussions have shifted from simply accepting they’re part of the sport to doing what’s possible to lessen impacts. Commissioner Roger Goodell talks about “changing the culture,” so players don’t try to “walk it off” after taking hits to the head.

Yet the AP’s conversations with players showed there is room for more adjustments, which did not surprise Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chairman of the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee.

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