Bicycles and skateboards are KILLING America's youth. I know this because a doctor told me so. Not just any doctor, Dr. Joseph C. Maroon, the team neurosurgeon for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a member of the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee. He also happens to think that the long-term neurological damage football players suffer is being "over-exaggerated."
Appearing on the league's official network in the wake of Chris Borland's retirement announcement, Maroon made his bold assertions and touted the NFL's recent changes focused on player safety.
"The rule changes, the safer tackling techniques, the medical management of concussions is so much better than it ever has been in the history of the sport," Dr. Maroon offered those points in his assertion that the game was safer than it has ever been.
Technically, he might be right. The NFL had a startling revelation about player safety after Roger Goodell was embarrassed in front of a Congressional committee in 2009, in which one congressman compared the NFL to the tobacco industry.
The doctor was then asked directly about the case of former Steelers lineman Mike Webster.
"Mike was one of the hardest players in the history of the sport, and he obviously had many traumatic episodes through his head," Dr. Maroon said of the Steelers' legendary center whose neurological damage was so bad that his son had to taser him in order to help him fall asleep.
He waved Webster off as an outlier and returning to the standard talking points about how the game has changed and bit players who suffer head trauma don't stay in the game like Webster did.
The doctor apparently forgot about, or has a different standard regarding, recent incidents concerning the Steelers, his own team. Running back Le'Veon Bell suffered a concussion in a Week 12 game against the Ravens on a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit. He even said he didn't remember what happened. Guess who was just fine and playing again a week later.
In case the doctor is under the illusion that the game is even safer than it was in 2013, we can point him to the Steelers' playoff loss to the Ravens in the Wild Card round in January 2015. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tight end Heath Miller both got their bell rung, as they say, in that game. Roethlisberger's head bounced off the ground when he sacked in the fourth quarter. Trainers checked him out, and he returned after three plays, not the 15 minutes or so the NFL's concussion rest is expected to take. On his first pass after returning to the game, a dazed Roethlisberger threw an interception.
But Maroon said that players don't play hurt like they did in Webster's day. A message that Steelers safety Troy Polamalu apparently didn't get when he told the media in 2012 that he had played through concussions.
"The worst thing that can happen with a concussion is to go back in if you're still suffering the lingering effects," the Steelers' team neurosurgeon said.
The doctor's comments about CTE probably shouldn't have come as a surprise.
"The problem of CTE, although real, is being over-exaggerated," the doctor said when asked what his message to concerned parents of youth football players would be.
If that's his message to parents, imagine what he's telling players, coaches and NFL suits.
Yes, that's an alarming thing to hear a neurosurgeon say, considering his position within the league and the NFL's reputation for acknowledging the scientific truths around the long-term effects of head trauma suffered as a regular part of the game by its players. It's also not consistent with the current research, something the NFL has never really troubled itself with.
A study last year by the nation's largest brain bank examined the brains of former NFL players; researchers found that 76 of the 79 brains they looked at had CTE. The occurrence of CTE in former players is significant and undeniable, despite the NFL's best efforts to overlook the problem.