clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Tom Brady is a reminder that the NFL still has work to do on concussions

New, comments

The league and players have made progress in dealing with the issue, but there’s more to do.

Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The No. 1 threat to the future of the NFL is the concern surrounding the long-term effects of head trauma. On Wednesday, head trauma made news again when Gisele Bundchen, wife of New England Patriots superstar quarterback Tom Brady, mentioned in an interview that her husband played through a concussion last season.

Brady wasn’t listed on any injury report this past season for a concussion. Gisele’s comments made the news because a) it’s Tom Brady and b) it’s the New England Patriots, who in the past have skirted the rules.

There is no doubt for a long time the NFL ignored the effects of head trauma. I didn’t play in that time period, so it’s hard for me to comment on the process of determining and reporting concussions. Now, teams are ultra vigilant regarding concussions.

Before the season begins, players take baseline mental testing to be used for comparison when there is a possible head injury. There are independent spotters up in the booth and independent neurological doctors on the sidelines on game day. Even referees have given been permission to stop the game to remove players they feel might be impaired. Before getting back on the field after a head injury, each team has a protocol the player must pass, including getting the OK from an independent doctor. All of these processes that are in place, plus education, has led to more documented cases of concussions and players who get the proper medical treatment when they get one.

There are lots of protocols in place for the team or NFL personnel to be alerted to a concussion. However, at times, it falls on the player to report the head injury.

When I first entered the NFL, players still struggled with reporting concussions to the trainers. No matter how much you hear the phrase “you can’t/won’t lose your job to injury,” that’s just not true. Reporting a concussion could lead to job loss. However, with more education and attention paid to CTE, players have started to self report concussions to the athletic trainers. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see this change in the players.

So now we get to Gisele’s comments about Brady. There are two ways to interpret her comments — 1) Brady casually mentioned he had a headache or wasn’t feeling right, and Gisele took that as a concussion, or 2) (and I think this is more probable) Brady mentioned he wasn’t feeling right, and Gisele, who’s been in this game for awhile and most likely knows how her husband is feeling, knew it was a concussion without actually asking Tom about it.

My wife is a nurse and we spent eight years in football. She knew exactly how I was feeling, even if I didn’t tell her the absolute truth about an injury. My wife once diagnosed me with a gastrointestinal issue before the team did. So I think it’s improper to just dismiss Gisele’s comments as “she’s not a doctor.”

Now, do I think New England withheld reporting a Brady concussion to keep him from the concussion protocol? Absolutely not. This issue is too sensitive for a team to possibly get caught not reporting a head injury.

If Brady got dinged, he kept it to himself.

It’s possible to get dinged and play through it with minimal or no side effects. It happened only once in my career. I pulled on a run play, went to cut the defender, and he lowered his body at the same time. We hit helmet to helmet. I got up, started to walk back to the huddle, felt a tad off, shook it off, and was fine. Played the rest of the game, remember everything, and had no side effects from that play.

At times, symptoms of concussions don’t show for days. I once had a teammate who felt super dehydrated after a game. He drank liquids for a few days. Went into the facility on Wednesday, still didn’t feel right. They ran him through tests and he passed all of them, but he still felt off. Ended up skipping the game on Sunday because the team and player both decided it was best to be cautious. I’ve also had a teammate not show any symptoms of a concussion, nothing at all, until Tuesday night. So the symptoms of concussions vary for everyone. That’s one reason it’s tough to catch and document all of them.

We have seen players retire early for concerns over CTE and current players get brain scans to determine the possible damage before moving forward into the next season. When a player enters the NFL now, there is no excuse to not be educated on head trauma. The effects of CTE will always haunt the NFL. We’ve made progress, but there’s more work to do.