When Tom Brady finally decided to speak after nearly a week of training camp, he immediately ruffled some feathers by proving once again that he and the New England Patriots believe they play under a different set of rules from the rest of pro football.
Brady was naturally asked about comments that his wife, supermodel Giselle Bundschun, had made in a recent interview stating he suffered with concussions and how she was worried about his health. Initially, Brady and the team were mum on the subject because, if true, the Patriots would again be defying league rules that demand he be listed on the weekly injury report.
But when he finally faced questions about it, Brady seemed more defiant than repentant, an approach that didn’t serve him that well the last time he was in the NFL’s crosshairs.
“I don’t want to get into things that happened in my past. Certainly medical history and so forth, I really don’t think that’s anybody’s business,” Brady said. “There’s people that do worry about that. My wife, my parents, my sisters, people that love me and care about me. But I do the best I can do to come out and be prepared to play mentally and physically and give the game everything I can.”
So does nearly every player in the NFL. But the fact is: The league has been working to overcome the stigma growing around the game from the concussion issue by requiring the reporting of concussions and having sidelined players who suffered them enter protocols.
Except, perhaps, in New England.
The team’s arrogant attitude about flaunting the laws of the game has already netted them the two biggest fines in the game’s history. One can make an argument that the “Deflategate’’ issue was overblown and over-punished. But, as someone in New England always says, “It is what it is,’’ and in that case it was a massive fine, a four-game suspension for Brady and a precedent-setting loss for the union that represents the players in federal court and that confirmed the commissioner’s overarching disciplinary powers.
To a degree, Brady makes a general point that is valid. One’s medical records are private for a reason. The problem in this case is that the league requires concussions be reported to it and listed on the team’s weekly injury report. It also requires players who have suffered concussions to enter the NFL’s protocol, which can sideline them until symptoms subside.
With mounting evidence of the consequences of second-hit syndrome leading to serious brain damage as you age, it would be both unwise and reckless to ignore them. This is true regardless of how much avocado ice cream you may be eating or whether you wear pressurized pajamas or not.
Players have begun to retire early to minimize the chances of brain injury, and most admit they now live in fear of the game’s long-term consequences. Hall-of-Fame running back Terrell Davis acknowledged as much last week while in Canton for his induction, and a growing number of others, both active and retired, have chosen to no longer live in denial.
A recent Boston University study showed of the over 200 brains examined of former football players, 87 percent had CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). That is the tau protein build-up that leads to debilitating brain damage and other long-term problems like ALS. Worse, in nearly 100 former pro football players, CTE was found in 99 percent of the brains studied.
Brady said he was aware of that study and other recent research suggesting that most NFL players face almost certain permanent brain damage on the field, but he said the benefits outweigh the risks.
“You’re not blind to it as a player,” Brady said. “It’s a contact sport, and I think we all understand that. And there’s a lot of great benefits that football brings you. You certainly can be put in harm’s way.”
He’s a grown man and thus entitled to take the risks he chooses with his health. But the league has clear protocols in place that should be followed. If the Patriots or Brady are ignoring them, they are simply wrong. If they think otherwise, they need only ask former teammates Kevin Turner and Ted Johnson about the consequences.
Well, they can’t ask Turner because he died just over a year ago as a result of the game’s ravages. Turner suffered with ALS for the last years of his life. He was 46 when he died.
This is a serious issue and cannot be ignored. If one wants kids to change their behaviors when it comes to reporting head injuries, their heroes must lead the way. To ignore that, as well as league policies designed to at least try and improve a staggering epidemic that threatens the sport’s future, is pure folly.
One can speculate that Brady’s wife was off base with her remarks, but Brady’s non-denial made that unlikely. The fact that no one in the world is closer to him than his wife argues the same point.
Only Brady and the Patriots know for sure if he has suffered concussions that have gone ignored, but you can’t blame the rest of the league for believing the worst when it comes to questions about whether the Patriots are following the rules.