PHILADELPHIA – Criticize the NFL all you would like for its handling of head trauma over the years and flash all the indignation you are capable of when realizing the league likely would have never changed into a more safety-based environment unless forced.
But realize there is another side to the problem that critics of the sport willfully ignore: the players’ role in all of this, particularly the ones who want to continue to stay on the field despite suffering potential concussions.
In a development that surely will not reflect well on the NFL’s current concussion policy, Eagles star safety Malcolm Jenkins admitted Thursday he played more than a half of football “in a fog.”
Jenkins returned to practice after being cleared by an independent neurologist and spoke to reporters after the session, claiming he suffered the head injury in the second quarter of Sunday night’s win in Dallas after a one-yard run by the Cowboys’ Darren McFadden.
“It’s that old ‘you get your bell rung’ type of thing,” Jenkins said. “Nobody likes to say that. I kind of had an idea but my symptoms kind of went away so I kept it to myself.”
With the exception of some teammates no one else noticed the potential for the concussion–not the Eagles coaching staff nor the independent concussion spotter, who has the power to stop the game and force a player to go through the game day protocol. Jenkins, meanwhile, didn’t volunteer any information despite feeling like “something” wasn’t right.
“I just kind of kept it to myself, which I probably shouldn’t have done,” he admitted. “I kind of fought through the game.”
In turn, Jenkins had one of his worst games of the season, especially when trying to cover Cole Beasley in the slot but no one on evidently put two and two together.
“I think they all trust my own judgment, so nobody really knew anything or asked me anything from that standpoint,” Jenkins said. “Because I was still able to kind of digest the plan. We’re still making adjustments, I’m still making calls, so nothing would have really kind of tipped them off.”
An NFL spokesman said that the league confirmed that the Eagles were unaware that Jenkins was concussed.
“We confirmed with the team medical staff that no one (coaches, players or medical staff) knew anything about it and did not detect any symptoms. We also confirmed that the ATC spotter (independent certified athletic trainer) upstairs did not see anything to prompt a call down to the medical staff.
“Players are constantly reminded that they share in the responsibility of managing this injury and must report any symptoms they have of a concussion. It is common for symptoms to occur on a delayed basis.”
That last part was probably added because at least some of Jenkins’ teammates did know something was up.
Fellow safety Walter Thurmond told the Philadelphia Daily News that there was a little self-monitoring going on by the rest of the defensive backfield and cornerback Byron Maxwell urged Jenkins to think about his family.
“We talked to (Jenkins) afterwards about that, that he has to keep the coaches and the medical staff informed,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “His health and safety is the No. 1 priority for us.”
In a broader sense Jenkins is hardly the only player who has and will continue to try to feign things in order to stay on the field and that undercuts a system that strives to put player safety above all else.
“Looking back on it, I shouldn’t have done (it),” Jenkins admitted. “I know the coaching staff and the medical staff wasn’t too happy afterwards. It was ill-advised.”
And it’s the difference between being a 25-year-old kid (or in the case of Jenkins, 27) and a 55-year-old man.
Priorities change and many of the ex-NFL players suffering from the effects of repetitive head trauma right now certainly knew the game was bad for their health despite no one drawing a direct causal connection between head trauma and things like CTE.
Dissenters, however, paint the picture that if those old-timers were educated to the potential long-tern issues, their decisions would have been different.
Jenkins, a thoughtful and engaging personality, who is by no means, the stereotypical dumb jock, proves that is specious.
“The player has to also be able to tell us kind of where he is, too,” Kelly said. “There is some responsibility that goes with him and Malcolm knows it. He feels — We’ve talked about it. I’ve talked with him. He’s heard from his mom and he’s heard from his wife. His long-term health is the most important thing to us.”
— John McMullen is the national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for The Sports Bash on ESPN South Jersey.
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