Yahoo Sports’ Jason Cole this week had a feel-good story about how Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the most valuable player of the Super Bowl, used the time when he was sidelined last fall with a concussion to “refocus.” The piece also highlighted the wise management of Rodgers’ second concussion by coach Mike McCarthy. The whole package combined “concussion awareness” and a happy ending so seamlessly that it earned a link at the National Football League’s nflhealthandsafety.com website.
See “Week off helped Rodgers see the light,” http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news;_ylt=AslNVDUuoIb4J1wpS0xMrRpDubYF?slug=jc-cole_dark_moment_sparked_rodgers_packers_081511.
I’m a big Aaron Rodgers fan, dating back to his college days at Cal. Like a lot of people in the Bay Area, I watched the San Francisco 49ers skip over Rodgers in the NFL draft in favor of the overmatched Alex Smith — a lapse in judgment for which they have paid the price in the standings ever since.
But reporter Cole, like too many football writers, omits unpleasant facts in the course of spinning his tidy narrative. Left unsaid is that many knowledgeable observers believe Rodgers suffered a third concussion during the National Football Conference championship game against the Chicago Bears, just two weeks before the Super Bowl. It came on a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by the Bears’ Julius Peppers early in the fourth quarter. (The clip is all over YouTube. Here’s one link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFDaBH_bSR0.)
According to some, the subsequent Fox television footage showed the Packers medical personnel sitting on the opposite end of the bench when Rodgers came to the sidelines at the end of that drive. Throughout Super Bowl hype week there were rumors, which Rodgers denied, that he’d sustained a concussion.
In an article headlined “Conspiracy of silence over possible Rodgers concussion?” (http://host.madison.com/ct/sports/football/professional/article_20a7a8f2-280b-11e0-aca5-001cc4c03286.html#ixzz1VbY5XaoE), Shawn Dougherty of The Capitol Times in Madison, Wisconsin, wrote that after the Peppers hit “Rodgers was woozy and wobbling about with dazed eyes. If you didn’t notice he was wobbling, surely you noticed his football was wobbling. His magic was gone for the rest of the game. He couldn’t even hit the mark with a couple of short passes. And yet for all the consciousness-raising lately about the dangers of concussions in football, hardly anybody seems to be talking about the possibility that our star quarterback suffered another one….”
Dustin Fink of the Concussion Blog (http://theconcussionblog.com), a high school athletic trainer, told Dougherty, “”If this had happened to one of my players on Friday night I would have pulled him off the field, just based on his gaze. We call it ‘the gaze’ when we see somebody concussed. It’s like they’re looking right through you. Their eyes don’t look like they’re as focused.”
I’m less bothered by whatever executive decisions the Packers might have made about the handling of their multimillion-dollar property than I am about how the story of whatever had transpired got folded, spindled, and mutilated into a slam-dunk successful cautionary tale. Rodgers even added an explicit marketing element, telling Peter King of Sports Illustrated that he had escaped a concussion in the NFC championship game thanks to a recent switch from a Riddell to a Schutt helmet. (Conveniently, this broke just as the NFL and one of its leading brain-trauma witch doctors, Joseph Maroon, were distancing themselves from a Federal Trade Commission investigation of Riddell promotional claims, which was initiated by Senator Tom Udall.)
Rodgers may or may not have regained — and retained — his focus. But the stakes are too high to allow the Yahoo version of his triumph on the field last winter to be the last word on that scenario in the current national concussion conversation. As a society, we have our own focus issues.