The League

Josh Zerkle
National Blogger

Josh Zerkle

Editor of the sports gossip and humor site With Leather

Brian's choice


Only one guy can definitively say whether Brian Westbrook should play against the 49ers on Sunday, and that's Brian Westbrook. The Eagles' running back hasn't seen the field in a month, after suffering two concussions in 20 days. Questions continue to swirl around the extent of his injuries, and whether he is even capable of making his own decision to return to action.

Westbrook's status is even more magnified by the NFL's re-inventing of its approach to head injuries after seemingly endless sessions in Congress. The league's initiatives to gauge a player's recovery from head injuries are wonderful. Those efforts will ensure that a player suffering a concussion will get the best possible care and diagnosis. But the league also wants its own doctors to have the final say on whether that player should return to the field, and this is where my fundamental disagreement lies.

The logic has been that coaches and doctors employed by the team would simply push a damaged player back onto the field. That a doctor employed by the league is what's required. Because that doctor, everyone says, would have that the player's best interest at heart.

Why wouldn't a league-appointed doctor err the other way? What would stop him from declining to clear a player that might be okay to play? Or that wants to play, and feels that he can? The league should stick to protecting a player from permanent brain damage. Not from himself.

ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, who was an NFL running back in his old life, has long been the champion of improving football's approach to head injuries But even when Hoge walked onto his ESPN set and spoke about his multiple head injuries, his brush with death, and his trials with learning how to read again, it was obvious that this guy still wanted to play, and he said so. Only when certain doom was at his doorstep did Hoge leave the game.

But should the NFL want to protect players from themselves, like a mother who lost a son in a DUI crash that wants to set laws about alcohol for everyone? The fact is, not everyone has that Damn The Torpedoes approach that Merril brought to the game. Players know when to quit. Well, everyone except Randy Moss, whose head issues still remain a mystery to everyone.

Today is the day that the Eagles will go back to work, and Brian Westbrook may or may not be going with them. I hope that the Eagles got the best doctors they could find to explain to Westbrook his current state of health, along with the risks of returning to action, and then send everyone else out of the room, because in the end, it's Brian's call. And it should be his alone. It's his career and his future, whatever he wants to make of it.

By Josh Zerkle  |  December 16, 2009; 11:55 AM ET  | Category:  Medical , Philadelphia Eagles Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: He's cleared, let him play | Next: Be deliberate, Brian

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