mike-brown-banks-story

Stop Talking and Use Your Head

Wrong spokesman, wrong tone, wrong topic—Mike Brown's concussion comments did nothing to help a touchy issue

When I think about the growing intersection between science and the culture change the NFL is trying to bring about regarding concussions and related brain injuries, I immediately wonder what Mike Brown has to say about the topic.

So when the Bengals’ 77-year-old owner decides to open up and shed some light on the issue, as he did last week in interviews with Cincinnati-area media, I pay attention. Especially when Brown sums up any potential link between football-produced head injuries and later-in-life brain damage as nothing more than “merely speculation,” citing “our statistics”’ as substantiation of his claim.

That pretty much settles it for me, but I’m not sure it will completely sway the debate in the eyes of the 4,000-plus former NFL players who are suing the league, claiming the NFL withheld information about the long-term consequences that football contact can have on the brain. They might need a tad more convincing, and for Brown to save them all some time and court costs by fleshing out the topic.

Which, in fairness, he attempted to do at the Bengals’ kickoff luncheon at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium, adding to the public record that he himself suffered his share of concussions as a high school and college athlete, and “I can still count to 10.” He went on the further clarify his views on the concussion matter, saying “Those sorts of things were part of sports in my era, and it still is.’”

Exactly, Mike, but I’m not sure that’s the strongest thrust of your argument to accentuate.

The NFL has endured more than its share of cringe-worthy headlines in recent weeks, but Brown taking center stage to play science skeptic and quasi-concussion expert had to give the league office a headache of the non-contact variety. At a time when the NFL is leaning so far forward on the matter of brain injuries and player safety that it seems it could tip over, along comes Brown to frame the issue in the hazy light of the past, with a shrug and a ham-handed attempt to dismiss the whole concussion issue as guesswork that hasn’t led to any meaningful conclusions.

Simply put, it’s the wrong tone, at the wrong time, by the wrong guy. Brown earned himself a Triple Crown of sorts by meandering down this particular conversational path.

The out-of-step, much-ado-about-nothing message delivered by Brown certainly did the NFL no favors, putting the league on the side (at least partially) of an owner who sounded as if he was trying to marginalize the concussion issue. There are obviously questions left unanswered by science when it comes to the brain and football, because it remains an evolving area of study, but how could Brown talk about the “uncertainty and contention” of current research when its trending in the opposite direction? Different conclusions have been reached about the strength of the link between repetitive concussions and the risk of cognitive impairment later in life. But the issue isn’t just speculative, and it isn’t going away. Instead, it’s likely going to court, unless the league settles with the former players who are suing it.

With that as the backdrop, does the NFL really want Brown of all people to be messenger when it comes to handling the question of whether repeated concussions increase the risk of dementia? He’s one of the league’s few remaining old-school owners, with his family name steeped in the history of the game. But when it comes to concussions, the history of the game isn’t all that glowing. Not so long ago, concussions were thought of as nothing more than players getting “dinged.” If you got your “bell rung,” you were expected to show toughness, fight through it, and get back on the field.

Brown represents the NFL’s old guard, but that naturally can be interpreted as representing the past and the way things used to be done. And that’s not really the direction the league wants to head on this defining and litigious issue.

The flippant and simplistic illustration Mike Brown offered doesn’t further the debate any in terms of this crucial issue.

After all, the past is very much the problem when it comes to concussions in football. The game either overlooked, disregarded or didn’t know enough about brain injuries for far too long. Brown, the son of the legendary and innovative Hall of Fame coach, Paul Brown, might point out that those “sorts of things were part of sports in my era,” but once upon a time, so too was the habit of withholding of water during practices and making full-contact drills a daily staple. But we know better now.

I’m glad Brown can still count to 10—tell me, exactly how many double-digit loss seasons have the Bengals had under his stewardship?—but the flippant and simplistic illustration he offered doesn’t help resolve this crucial issue any more than climate-change deniers asking how global warming could possibly exist if it still snows every winter.

Brown has a dog in this fight, of course. He’s one of 32 owners, and the NFL is facing a potentially costly lawsuit over the issue of football-related brain injuries. One of Brown’s more recent players, receiver Chris Henry, died in a 2010 domestic dispute accident and was later found to have a form of brain damage called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, making him the league’s first known active player to have that progressive and trauma-induced disease. (Until recently, CTE could only be discovered in an autopsy.)

In Henry’s case, there was proof of football-related brain damage. But he didn’t live long enough to experience any complications from it in old age. I’m not sure if that’s relevant to the “statistics” Brown cites to back up his “speculation” contention or or not.

What is clear is that the NFL’s challenges on the concussion and brain injury front call for serious thinking and serious action. And a lot of it is taking place within the league these days. I just didn’t happen to hear much of that coming from Mike Brown. He sounded more like he was in serious denial.

16 comments
john15
john15

Problem bees dat Most nfl thugs can't count to 10 when dey bees 21.

Joe88
Joe88 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Reporters these days do no research.  The media pushes it's own sensationalistic point of view.  Never show the counterpoint.  Here is a report backing exactly what Mike Brown had to say.  This is actually a reprint from the Steelers website.  Who's right or wrong?  I don't know, but don't attack people for being one-sided when all you're doing is pushing your "topic of the day" mentality.

http://www.bengals.com/news/article-1/Doctor-Concussion-is-a-manageable-injury/8cdbb8e1-9884-46a0-83d8-cf25bf7ff9ea

credroc
credroc like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Joe88 Really? And you think a story that's been posted on one team's website and been republished on another team's site doesn't push the NFL's agenda?

Joe88
Joe88

@credroc @Joe88  Banks basically grills Mike Brown for something he deems to be a closed case.  Brown is just saying we don't have enough information to draw a ton of conclusions.  He's not saying stop research and everything's fine, he's just saying there are no conclusive studies. All I'm saying is that no one even points out the NFL's argument.  And in light of all the reporting, you honestly think the NFL's agenda is to give the impression they don't think there's a problem.  Both the mainstream media and the NFL have agendas but we're only hearing one side of the story.  Read the article and decide for yourself.  It's about a concussion clinic in Pittsburgh.

ReidKashmanian
ReidKashmanian

The problem with the NFL trying to "adapt" and become safer for players is that the sport physically cannot be played without violent contact. Of the major world sports: Baseball doesn't require contact, Basketball doesn't require contact to be played, Soccer doesn't demand contact, and even Hockey can be played without violent hits. Football, unless they play 2-hand touch or flag football, must have severe contact to be played. 

The only way this whole thing ends is with the game being shut down for health and safety concerns or losing a lot of luster and popularity because of drastic rule changes (no tackling, etc.)

Mike N
Mike N

Brown is no different than most republicans, deny facts! 

The Earth 5,000 years old, climate change is a hoax and more guns = less violence and now concussions are unproven!

john15
john15

@Mike N FYI Google" The Harold Wallace Rosenthal interview".

cdawg
cdawg

@Mike N I'm so glad we can make this football only website about politics now! I was worried I wouldn't be able to come here and hear half the country be berated for political views and being called narrow minded! Thanks for your productive comment Mike!

msprowles
msprowles

Wow! Stereotype much? You would think a liberal such as yourself would be a little more PC than to profile anyone in such a manner... Remember the liberal motto sir; It's much more important to bow to one person's feelings than it is to speak the truth.

beldene47
beldene47

Brown's brand of ball didn't have the size,speed, nor uniform enhancements that make the modern game dicey if you're hit at the wrong place and time.  Look at what happened to Bo Jackson.  Sideline hit from awkward angle damaged his hip and out of football and baseball too.  Had he been hit with a leather helmet he probably doesn't dislocate hip.  Some of the uniform enhancements have to be corrected or concussions and a whole slew of untimely needless injuries occur.  Pro football evolving into a Transformsers type of player.

Wonder what the Australian Football and world rugby conconcussion injury stats are?

flamiemcflamerpants
flamiemcflamerpants like.author.displayName 1 Like

@beldene47 The hit didn't do Bo in.  He dislocated his hip and when it came out, severed the blood vessel supplying blood to the hip.  The blood pooled, then calcified, and ruined his hip.  

And it wasn't the hit.  When he was being tackled he fought for more yards.  When he planted his leg with a defender on him, that's when he dislocated his hip and tore the blood vessel.  Helmet to hip hit can't do that. 

joedilly
joedilly

Great article on an important issue, Don. One point regarding the statement that "until recently, CTE could only be discovered during an autopsy": while it is true that you do not necessarily need a full autopsy to diagnose CTE, I think it is important to clarify that, currently, post-mortem neuropathological analysis is the only definitive way to diagnose an individual with CTE; there is, unfortunately, no way to diagnose a living person with CTE (yet). The new strides made in tau-imaging may change this, but right now you can't really know if a person had this disease for sure until their brain tissue has been examined after they've passed away.

7ThundersRX
7ThundersRX

Peter, while I understand your point of view, when it comes to football and concussions they kind of go hand in hand! If you play a sport that requires a helmet, that should be warning enough! You wear a helmet on a bicycle, not to look cool, but to protect your noggin'! So when I read about the lawsuits, especially from spoiled football players, about not knowing the risk of the game. We should ask ourselves, would they still have accepted those multi-million dollar contracts with knowing the risks? This is no different then a warning label placed on everything because the general population is getting dumber! Come on football players, you've already made more money in a season, then most of us will see in a life time!! 

mystafugee
mystafugee

@7ThundersRX So why did the NFL up until 2006 deny their was any link between concussion and long-term brain injuries?  

leehwgoc
leehwgoc like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@7ThundersRX First of all, a vast number of the former players suing the league played in an era when most players *were not* signing multi-million dollar contracts.  

Second of all, medical knowledge and awareness on this issue simply wasn't anything remotely like it is now back in the 60s-80s.  You're suggesting the presence of helmets should've automatically informed every player of the routine incidence of major brain damage from playing the sport in an era when people still didn't even understand that concussions caused brain damage at all.

Your post is very silly.

Newsletter