- - Thursday, December 21, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In all the accusations made in concussion lawsuits by former NFL players that the league hid information about long-term damage from such blows, the owners are generally portrayed as the bad guys — evil robber barons whose greed left these players brain damaged and disabled.

But what about the players themselves? What if a head-hunting linebacker knew that the blow he hoping to land on a running back could possibly lead to long-term brain damage?

Would he have a second thought?

Is it just the true nature of the game — at least to date — to damage the opponent, whatever the costs, to win?

If the players had known what the owners allegedly hid, would it have made any difference?

I ask these questions in the wake of the social media response of Washington Redskins linebacker Zach Brown, who scoffed at the notion presented by Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams that players should look out for themselves.

Adams was knocked into concussion protocol following a helmet-to-helmet blindside shot from Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis in their game last Sunday.

Adams wrote, “I’ll never understand it. Game is already dangerous enough and we got Pro Bowl players out there head hunting and saying they ‘didn’t mean to harm me.’”

Davis responded, “I understand your frustration and I do apologize for the hit. In no way was I trying to hurt you. My first instinct was to turn and make a block. In sincerity I do apologize. I truly respect you as a player and I made a mistake.”

Classy. Intelligent.

Adams’ call for players to watch out for themselves was echoed by Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer — a former defensive coordinator — who told reporters this week that he believes “it’s important we try to take hits to the head out of the game best we can. You don’t want to see people get hurt or get injured.”

Zimmer suggested that players could do more to protect themselves. “A lot of times these quarterbacks throw the ball in the middle of the field and these safeties are coming to make a play on the ball. Quite honestly the ball shouldn’t have been thrown. Back in the day the ball wouldn’t have been thrown.

“We have to adapt to the rules,” he said. “The hard part especially for the safeties is when they’re catching the ball and the guy is going down, you’ve lowered your target, but he continues to go lower. Now you have to try to, in about the time it takes a golf ball to come off a club face, to move your target to another spot, which is almost totally impossible. I think they could take a bunch of these plays out if the quarterbacks wouldn’t throw the ball into places they shouldn’t throw the ball.”

This is a view, though, not shared by all.

Zach Brown, responding to a post on Pro Football Talk about the exchange between Adams and Davis, was hardly sympathetic. “Tell him don’t play … cause I’m always headhunting.” Brown declared that Adams should “stop crying about getting hit,” because he knows what he signed up for by playing football.

And there you go — the challenge facing not just the league, but the union whose job it is to protect its members: How to convince its own members to protect each other.

It may be an impossible task — and may illustrate the growing reality that there are no answers to the physical damage that wrecks havoc on players lives and is wrecking havoc on the business of football.

You can’t count on the players to care for themselves — even when they join the other side.

Rob Gronkowski’s one-game suspension for his cheap, purposeful shot to the head of Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White illustrates the flawed mentality of the very people who are at risk.

If you truly wanted to change the game, Gronkowski should have been suspended for the remainder of the season. Instead, he got a one-game suspension by a former player — NFL vice president Jon Runyon — who, when he played offensive tackle in the league, was considered among the dirtiest players in the league. He was ranked second on a Sports Illustrated list of the NFL’s “dirtiest” players in 2006.

And so it goes — brain damage handed down from one generation of players to the next generation — from players, by players.

When do players start suing each other?

• Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.


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