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The Broncos, Cam Newton and the concussion double standard

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This morning, we all woke up to a great deal of discussion regarding the NFL’s hottest topic: head injuries and concussion protocol.

It’s no secret that last night Cam Newton took multiple shots to the head, and definitely seemed to feel the effects down the stretch.

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Cam wasn’t taken out of the game. There has been an understandable amount of gnashing of teeth over the Panthers and the NFL’s handling of the situation, as pretty much everyone is now on board with the idea that head injuries are, you know, bad.

A quick scroll through Twitter will reveal one big name after another in the media calling out the NFL, talking through all the same (often valid) talking points we’ve heard before: the NFL isn’t doing enough to take care of players, the NFL doesn’t care about concussions, the NFL is an evil being that will eat your children, etc.

Strangely absent from the outcry? Discussion about the cause of Cam’s (apparent) head injury.

Look at the language used in one of PFT’s articles on the subject...

The NFL’s concussion protocols are once again under scrutiny after Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took multiple hard hits to the head on Thursday night but did not leave the game.

As many of you know, I’m an attorney by trade. Something that’s very important when you do what I do is phrasing. How you phrase things means a great deal when presenting the same factual scenario (when there’s no dispute as to what happened). For example, “Person A was hit by a car” sounds a lot different than “Person B hit Person A with a car.”

If you’re the lawyer for Person B, you use the first phrase. If you’re the lawyer for Person A, you use the second phrase. Both are saying the same thing (technically), but they sound very different.

You notice what’s being left out? What’s being glossed over by phrasing it like Cam just “took shots to the head” from some kind of random object? This.

Cam Newton wasn’t just randomly hit. He didn’t just fall wrong, he wasn’t the victim of a pileup or a play where he dove forward and took a knee to the head. He was repeatedly targeted by people (you autonomous human beings with a choice) wearing uniforms who showed absolutely no regard for the rules of the game OR “player safety.”

And it’s not like no one is aware of this fact. Here is an article that breaks down, cheap shot by cheap shot, the number of times Cam got legitimately targeted and the nature of the targeting that occurred. But the funny thing is that, even in that article (written by Will Brinson with CBS), the blame is placed primarily on the refs and the league for allowing it to occur.

Going back to PFT’s article on the subject, here’s a blurb I found fascinating.

The NFL Players Association has criticized the league for failing to do enough to protect players from brain injuries, and when the NFL’s reigning MVP gets hits in the head during the marquee Week One opener, it’s bound to draw more criticism.

Again, notice the wording there? “it’s” (as in the league) is bound to get more criticism when Newton gets “hits in the head” (again, notice the lack of causal language there, and remember that Florio started out as a lawyer).

And also, notice the reference to the NFL Player’s Association, which has indeed (and rightfully so) accused the league of not doing enough to protect players from brain injuries.

Here’s my question in all this... at what point do the NFLPA, the media, and many fans start to point blame at the individuals actually causing the harm?

Make no mistake, the NFL needs to answer for its actions regarding concussions. I absolutely believe that. But we’re at a new phase in the world, one where EVERYONE knows how dangerous it is to launch with your helmet and target another player’s head. Including every single Broncos player who did exactly that last night.

Yes, the refs should call those penalties. Yes, the NFL has done wrong by players regarding head injuries.

But at a certain point, it is utterly ridiculous that we aren’t holding players more accountable for their own actions on the field. These are adults who have a choice how they play the game. These are adults who have been told how dangerous concussions are. These are adults who OUGHT to know better, yet still launch themselves helmet-first at an opposing player.

And even worse, these are adults who (often) join the fray in criticizing the league for not “keeping them safe.”

There are hazards on any work site. It is the company’s responsibility to set safety standards that protect employees from harm, no doubt. But it is the employee’s responsibility to FOLLOW those safety standards and display an ounce of common sense. If a high-rise construction worker is told how dangerous it is to work without a lanyard, then decides not to wear it one day because it’s uncomfortable or whatever, is it SOLELY the company’s fault if he plummets to his death?

Of course not. And it is not solely on the NFL to take care of player safety. If you have been told how dangerous concussions are, if you have been told not to target opposing players’ heads, if you have been told it’s against the rules... you are without excuse when you violate others’ safety and risk injuring them (and yourself) to make a statement about physicality.

It’s time for players to be held as accountable as owners, referees, and Roger Goodell when it comes to player safety (at least with regards to blatant head shots like the ones we saw last night). The time for players to claim ignorance has passed. They know what maximizes the risk of head trauma to themselves or others, and anyone who claims otherwise is blatantly lying.

If you’re going to crush the NFL for not caring about player safety, you’d better crush players who don’t care about it, too. Because both are inexcusable.

And NFLPA, if you’re going to continue to call out the league for not caring about player safety, you need to figure out how to deal with the headhunters in your membership. Failing to do so, to quote your president, would be sickening and disgusting.