By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s the National Football League’s dirty little “secret,” the objective reality that they don’t want casual observers to understand or cognizant die-hards to accept. It’s the reason the league would rather Gisele Bündchen remain silent and they would stay off Tom Brady and the Patriots’ backs this time.
Every NFL player has concussions.
Whether mild or severe, frequent or infrequent, repeated head trauma is simply a part of football life. Regular viewers know this and most have accepted it, while those on the periphery treat Gisele’s off-the-cuff remarks about Brady’s concussion issues like some sort of stunning revelation.
Yes, Brady has suffered occasional head injuries at times in his career – just like everyone else who’s played on an NFL field. He’s not special or different in that regard – except in the respect that he mostly keeps it to himself. It’s part of how he’s been able to stay on the field for so long and make himself into the greatest quarterback to ever lace up.
It also shouldn’t shock anyone that the Seahawks messed with the injury report over Richard Sherman, or that the Colts had a similar situation with Andrew Luck, or that the Steelers hid an injury to Le’Veon Bell. Star players aren’t miraculously healthier or more durable than everyone else. Whether it’s because of the team or the player, the stars mostly stay on the field through all injuries, not just to the head.
But Gisele’s out-of-nowhere decision to make Brady’s apparent concussion history public knowledge, whether accidental or not, has prompted a new line of questioning for every NFL star that’s stayed on the field through similar trouble. As a result, the massive physical and mental toll that the NFL takes on all players could become widely accepted as well.
Take recently retired Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was asked about concussions at his “Catching Dreams” football camp near Detroit on Saturday. He replied “Of course” when asked whether he’d ever hidden concussions from team doctors and spoke at length about the inherent reality of rampant unreported and undiagnosed head injuries.
“Guys get concussions, they don’t tell the coaches. It happens,” said Johnson, via the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t tell the coach sometimes, because I know I’ve got a job to do. The team needs me out there on the field. And sometimes you allow that to jeopardize yourself, but that’s just the nature of the world.”
Johnson’s comments echoed those of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who said last week that he’s also played through concussions without reporting them – while adding that he wouldn’t tell his wife about it.
On the other side of that coin is Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has undoubtedly taken a beating and played through a wide range of injuries over the course of his career. But Roethlisberger pulled himself out of a game in Nov. 2015 because he was feeling concussion symptoms, and spoke about his decision on Peter King’s The MMQB podcast a year later. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Brady revelation led him to speak about it again.
“I’m proud of it,” said Roethlisberger on self-reporting his concussion. “I have been just like Drew [Brees] where I haven’t reported things before either. Probably everybody who has ever played the game of football hasn’t reported an injury. For me it wasn’t about an injury — I’ve played through many injuries — but when you talk about your head, that is a different ball game. You can replace a lot of body parts; you can’t replace a brain.
“You see the effects of it from past players, players who have taken their lives, the CTE stuff, all that stuff and, you know, I’m thinking about my family and long term. I love this game and I love my brothers that I play football with, and I would encourage any player who has an issue with their brain to just report it properly.”
That Brady has apparently played through multiple concussions without reporting them – agent Don Yee made it clear in a recent statement that Brady was not diagnosed with a concussion last season – is inevitably going to lead to further questions about players’ personal responsibility to preserve the long-term health of their brains. Too many horrific stories have come out about the intense struggles of many former players who suffered from CTE to simply ignore the problem and accept the reality.
But Brady is not alone in his steadfast reluctance to self-report any kind of injury, especially head trauma. It’s ostensibly an issue with star players on all 32 NFL teams. The Patriots likely prefer that Brady keep himself on the field at all costs. The NFL definitely prefers that – when it comes to injuries, anyway.
Ultimately, this is a discussion that the NFL did not want to see started. The reality of rampant head injuries in the league, long accepted by ardent, perceptive viewers, is becoming common knowledge for everyone else.
And for those who may long for major changes to the way the game of football is played and the way players manage their own health, the Brady concussion story is a welcome admission.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at email@example.com.