The League

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

His choice, but...


If Brian Westbrook has been cleared to play by an independent physician who is a specialist in head trauma and knowledgeable about the current state of research on concussions... and if Brian Westbrook himself is fully informed about the current state of research on concussions and their potential long-term consequences... then playing, and allowing him to play this weekend are responsible decisions.

Whether it is safe for him to play is another question entirely, but one for which we might not have a clear-cut answer for many years, after considerably more research. In the meantime, this sort of decision is going to become commonplace in the NFL if the league holds to its public commitment to the players' welfare. And the decision is going to be excruciating for players who must weigh their long-term mental health against their competitive instincts and their very large salaries.

When my younger son played football in middle school and high school, when he suffered a concussion we were told that if he had a second one, his season was over. If that was simply sound medical advice in general, rather than a necessary precaution for a child, or over-cautiousness for the sake of a child whose disappointment was not all that important in the scheme of things, then it should apply to Brian Westbrook as well. The "scheme of things" for NFL players is quite different from that for schoolboys, but sound medical advice is sound medical advice. On the other hand, if the risk for teenagers is greater than for adults, the same advice might not apply to Brian Westbrook and my son.

This is a difficult time for the NFL and its players, and it won't be ending soon. The "self-interest" of each lies in being cautious about head injuries, but sometimes it can be hard to recognize one's true self-interest. It would be more dangerous for the NFL to be perceived as indifferent to the long-term damage to players than the short-term impact of losing star players for several games. For the players, long-term mental acuity should be more important than short-term wealth and glory, but it can be very difficult to glimpse the long term when the short term is so dramatically apparent.

If Brian Westbrook plays this weekend, I hope that it is for the right reasons, not the short-sighted ones. If he doesn't play, it can only be for the right reasons because the wrong ones wouldn't lead to that decision. And this is just the first of such decisions that will become routine in both college football and the NFL in future seasons.

By Michael Oriard  |  December 16, 2009; 10:58 AM ET  | Category:  Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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