- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | Questionable. Such is the career status of Fort Washington, Md., native Brian Westbrook after Philadelphia’s franchise running back suffered the second concussion of his NFL career in less than three weeks Sunday.

“Football right now for Brian Westbrook is not the important thing,” Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said this week. “It’s making sure that we get him analyzed, tested and taken care of and then we’ll go from there. … I talked to him on Monday, and he was in a good place. He didn’t seem rattled.”

Philadelphia’s career leader in yards from scrimmage (9,711), the 30-year-old Westbrook left a 31-23 loss at San Diego after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Chargers safety Eric Weddle in the second half. The versatile back had missed the previous two games while recovering from a concussion he received during the first quarter of Philadelphia’s 27-17 victory at Washington on Oct. 26.

The two-time Pro Bowl selection met with a team of concussion specialists from the University of Pittsburgh on Wednesday and endured an exhaustive battery of neuro-cognitive tests. According to a news release issued by the Eagles, Dr. Joseph Maroon was encouraged by significant improvements in Westbrook’s condition since Sunday. But Maroon and his colleagues want to administer a series of follow-up tests in two to three weeks, scratching Westbrook for at least the team’s next two games (at Chicago, vs. Washington) and leaving his future shrouded in doubt.

While the NFL continues to assess the long-term implications of concussions and repeated head trauma for current and former players, a number of studies have come out over the last three years linking concussions and head trauma among NFL players to an increased risk of clinical depression, neuro-cognitive decline and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. A degenerative form of brain damage normally associated with boxing, CTE was evident in the brain tissue of deceased players like Philadelphia safety Andre Waters and Pittsburgh offensive linemen Mike Webster, Terry Long and Justin Strzelczyk.

While the initial prognosis for Westbrook is cautiously optimistic, players today are more aware than ever of the dangers of repeated head trauma, particularly when concussions begin to multiply.

“I know that there are a lot of guys who have played in recent years who have made the decision to retire early who have had more concussions than Brian,” Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb said. “It’s a scary decision that you have to make.

“He’s a competitor. He has a lot of drive and determination, and he wants to be the best at everything that he does. In this situation, you have to take a step back and look at your future and look at the possibilities of what it could be. You want everybody to walk away from this game on their own terms and be able to hold their kids and play with their kids in the future, travel and take trips with their families and not have to worry about anything. … I look for him to be back, but I think in this situation, really it’s out of Brian’s hands; it’s in God’s hands.”

Between trips back and forth to Pittsburgh to monitor his condition, Westbrook likely will spend significant time over the next few weeks evaluating his future at his 23-acre horse farm in Upper Marlboro, Md.

“We’re all concerned for him because he’s living through what every player wrestles with - the unknowns that come with injuries, particularly head injuries,” said Philadelphia fullback Leonard Weaver, who calls Westbrook his “big brother.” “Every player knows the risk-reward proposition involved in this sport. There aren’t a lot of other jobs where you can make as much money in as short of a time as in this profession.

“But at the same time, we all know every snap could be our last. I texted [Westbrook] last night, and he’s doing all right. I think there are a lot of things going through his head right now: Why has this happened? Why am I going through this? What does the future hold? Those are things that will be answered shortly. The important thing is that he knows whatever those answers, we all have his back.”

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