Before halftime of the NFC Divisional playoff game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints, Percy Harvin, signed to a six- year $67 million deal in the offseason, was leaving the game for a concussion after an awkward fall in the end zone.
With Russell Wilson’s first pass attempt to the free agent acquisition since the single game he played in Week 11, New Orleans Saints Safety Rafael Bush was flagged for a hit to a defenseless receiver as his shoulder collided with Harvin’s helmet, sending Harvin’s mouthpiece flying across the field.
On this earlier play, Harvin was taken off the field and forced to the locker room for concussion testing, but returned to the game after passing the tests. One quarter later, the oft-injured Harvin fell to the turf for the last time, mere plays after catching a third down pass from Wilson to set up the goal line opportunity.
Harvin wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game, was diagnosed with a concussion and, per the league’s new concussion policy, missed Sunday’s NFC Championship game. Bush received a letter from the commissioner’s office Friday carrying a fine of $21,000 for the hit.
Nearly every week, similar story lines can be found on the Friday morning edition of Sportscenter, when fines are handed out to reinforce the new rule system and players are undergoing final evaluations to be cleared to play.
And, at this time, angry fans prepare for a week without their favorite players, often writing malicious tweets and commenting about how you just can’t play tackle football anymore.
As an avid Seattle sports fan my immediate reaction when Harvin was ruled out with a concussion went something like, “Dear God, please let him be back for next week.”
Fans, players, coaches, owners and the commissioner’s office all want their star players out on the gridiron week in and week out. But it’s time for us to move past our love of the game, and the money the game produces, and consider the real-life consequences that negligence on the part of both the NFL and fans of the sport have caused.
Fittingly, while Harvin was undergoing assessments to play in the championship game, the first real concussion settlement attempt from the league was shot down by U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody. The NFL’s proposed legal settlement addressed compensation for the disturbing health effects that former NFL players are experiencing due to sustaining numerous concussions throughout their lengthy NFL careers.
The list of diseases related to the high levels of head trauma include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, players have had deaths directly caused by brain trauma, and indirectly influenced by the psychological damage that dozens of concussions can have on the brain.
Look no further than the plethora of both active and retired NFL players such as Junior Seau, Javon Belcher and Ray Easterling who have committed suicides that have been linked to the head trauma that they sustained as a result of their multiple concussions.
The NFL can no longer afford to look the other way on the issue, as they did for years even though concussion studies continued to reinforce the serious long-term effects that multiple head traumas and improperly treated concussions can cause.
In the case of Javon Belcher, whose estate is currently pursuing civil action against the NFL on an individual level, NBC Sports reported that he sustained a concussion in the early 2009 season, prior to the NFL’s new concussion assessment rules.
This occurred while Roger Goodell was in the process of insisting that the NFL’s ongoing research superseded the independent findings of a congressional hearing.
Belcher, who shot himself in the middle of the 2012 season in front of his coach and general manager, was claimed by the lawsuit to have suffered from CTE, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, due to multiple concussions. The lawsuit also claims that Belcher had been mentally abused by Chiefs officials and bullied him into playing with concussions.
And so, the NFL was forced in 2010, to acknowledge the long-term effects of concussions and began slowly in 2011, with new kickoff rules designed to protect players on that type of high impact play.
Finally, after concussions rose in 2012 by 14%, and on the heels of Belcher’s suicide, the NFL placed independent neurologists on the sideline at every game in 2013. This ensured that players would have to be fully cleared before reentering games or playing in future games.
Despite these measures on the field to protect current players, along with new informative campaigns off the field, recently retired NFL players have continuously shown signs of CTE, dementia, depression, and memory loss, while long time former players are being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
The NFL, knowing the legal implications of their long-term negligence, recently proposed a $765 million settlement with the players.
This settlement outlined that the highest compensation given to former players would be $5 million for a player who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease before the age of 46. An 80-year old with early dementia would get $25,000.
Brody struck down the settlement and the Associated Press recorded her as saying, “I am primarily concerned that not all retired NFL football players who ultimately receive a qualifying diagnosis or their [families] … will be paid.”
The NFL will be forced to reevaluate their idea of fair compensation in the aftermath of Brody’s ruling, and NFL fans will continue to be forced to put a price tag on their entertainment as well. For years, the NFL’s negligence was perpetuated by booming popularity and fan’s demands for a rough, tough, tackle football league.
Ultimately, while the NFL is legally responsible for the long-term consequences of the concussion problem, as a fan of the game who also turned a blind eye to the health issues and continued to disapprove of personal foul calls that supposedly ruin the integrity of the game, I consider myself implicated.
In a world where athletes who don’t play get harassed by thousands of harsh tweets, booing fans and constant “expert” analysis, where they’re are expected to man up and shrug off injuries like super humans, it seems that the fans must at some point claim responsibility for the perpetuation of ignorance on the issue of concussions.
Some claim that these player’s choices to play in the NFL were contractual agreements that knowingly acknowledging the risks, of which long-term health issues were an acute possibility. However, these players were kept in the dark and subjected to many improper concussion measures by the league’s lack of regulation for years.
While no amount of compensation can truly make up for the loss of lives and futures of NFL players, as fans we must implore that the commissioner’s office treats the players and their families with dignity and respect as they rethink their settlement.
As responsible fans, we should also pressure the league to continue enforcing rule changes and strict concussion testing.
So while Percy Harvin sat out the NFC Championship on Sunday, and a not so small part of me wishes he had been cleared to play, there are things that are more valuable than my entertainment for a week.
Harvin’s future and other NFL player’s futures are worth more than fans having a football league full of unregulated big hits and uninformed medical procedures.