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I’m a bit outraged by Paul Anderson’s piece arguing essentially that NFL players have the right to play after they’ve had a concussion. Anderson argues that our national concussion outrage should focus on college football–and he’s right about that. During last week’s Arizona-USC game, Arizona QB Matt Scott was leading his team down the field for a go-ahead touchdown. Near the end of the drive, Scott scrambled and took a knee to the head. He immediately puked on the field and was clearly concussed. Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez left Scott in the game to complete the drive. This was an egregious violation of player safety. College football is absolutely terrible on this issue.

But Anderson’s piece also basically feels like an apology for the NFL. He rightly notes that the lawsuits currently under litigation are about old players and the old NFL and that in today’s NFL, everyone knows the risk of concussions. Since those players are getting paid, the have the right to work after concussed. But from my perspective, this feels an awful lot like employers in other high risk workplaces abnegating responsibility for their actions by invoking labor’s “freedom to work.” Sure that coal mine is egregiously unsafe, but I’m not forcing the worker to go down in the hole! Now there is some difference of course between the two situations–NFL players are highly paid and coal miners aren’t. But most NFL players are looking at a very short career and within NFL culture, any sign of not putting your body through extreme hell is considered soft and a good way to find yourself unemployed.

Moreover, and this seems so obvious as to not need saying, when you have just suffered a concussion, you are not in the right mindset to make a rational decision about continuing to play. Yet Anderson portrays concussed players as rational actors who will make the best decision for themselves. That’s totally absurd. He argues that they can apply for workers’ compensation if they are permanently hurt, but anyone who has gone through that system can tell you it’s neither easy nor does it fully compensate your pay.

Anderson is supposed to be some of sort concussion expert, but to me he’s sounding an awful lot like a libertarian who is happy to put workers at risk in favor of larger principles of “free will” for which he personally will never face the consequences.

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  • rea

    No, no, no!. This is yet another issue that was hashed out at the beginning of the last century–and now apparently we’re back to 1885 or so.

    The economics of the employer-employee relationship mean that no employee can be said to be making a voluntary choice in a situation like this.

    “I asked him to finish washing the windows on the 40th floor even though we didn’t have a safety harness for him. He could have said no . . . I wouldn’t have held his refusal against him, I swear. That other guy who got laid off–that was just coincidence.”

    • greylocks

      The economics of the employer-employee relationship mean that no employee can be said to be making a voluntary choice in a situation like this.

      This, exactly.

      Making continued play “optional” in effect takes the option away from the player. Players who opt not to play, especially in macho sports like hockey and football, are branded cowards, weaklings, petunias, whatever. The player worried about his starting job or his upcoming contract negotations is going to keep playing. The problem is exascerbated by contract bonuses based on statistical measurements.

      You have to take the option away from both the player and the coach.

      • KadeKo

        When asked why he fired the guy who wouldn’t go up 40 stories without a harness, the coach manager said “I guess that other window washer just wanted it more.”

        • greylocks

          See also sexual harassment.

    • Holden Pattern

      The libertarian solution to this is of course that enough window-washers die that it creates a labor shortage and it’s too expensive to get new window-washers, so the boss buys a safety harness in order to conserve existing window-washers.


      • Thank you for a well-needed laugh

        • Rhino

          He wasn’t making a joke. That is the actual libertarian explanation.

    • Just Dropping By

      The economics of the employer-employee relationship mean that no employee can be said to be making a voluntary choice in a situation like this.

      Yet somehow I suspect that you froth with outrage when people compare taxation with theft even though there the more powerful party can directly back its position with lethal force….

      • daveNYC

        And with laws, but whatever.

      • Holden Pattern

        Shorter all libertarians ever: “Collective Action Problems? Never heard of such a thing.”

      • Just Dropping By’s Mom

        I’m so proud of my son defending people like those picked upon little Koch brothers, why won’t any girl go out with such a nice boy?

      • (the other) Davis

        Force is not the same thing as theft.

        This has been another episode of Obvious Answers to Stupid Arguments.

      • mpowell

        One difference between liberals and libertarians is that a liberal understands the purpose of establishing the moral legitimacy of government power (ie, it is just to force people to do things they don’t want to in certain circumstances).

        Since the libertarian is a selfish navel-gazing creature, it is difficult for him (and almost always him) to appreciate that although he might be similarly upset at an employer and the government forcing him to do something, one may reflect a social injustice while the other not.

      • gorillagogo

        Funny, I don’t recall anyone suggesting that taxation was voluntary. Regardless, when was the last IRS audit that resulted in lethal force?

      • rea

        The state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Your employer, not so much.

        • Holden Pattern

          In Libertariana, you’re right. Your employer doesn’t have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. More an oligopoly, shared with other employers of appropriate size and power.

  • Bruce Vail

    This is exactly right about football players, both college and professional.

    (But you might want to update your assumptions about coal miners’ pay with some research. Coal mining jobs, for the most part, are well-paid by national standards and especially well-paid in the context of the rare and generally crappy alternate jobs available in the coal fields of Appalachia and rural western areas like Powder River Basin, etc.)

  • mpowell

    This is stupid. It makes perfect sense for the players and league to collectively agree that playing with a concussion is not allowed. Whatever Anderson’s expertise on concussions is, he’s clearly a moron when it comes to labor law.

    • bradP

      This is stupid. It makes perfect sense for the players and league to collectively agree that playing with a concussion is not allowed. Whatever Anderson’s expertise on concussions is, he’s clearly a moron when it comes to labor law.

      This is true, but the contractual changes he recommends must be a part of it (assuming he is right).

      The NFL (and the NCAA) has to be very careful that whatever rules they put in place does not provide incentive for players to hide concussions.

  • gorillagogo

    In general I think the NFL’s approach to concussions is a joke. When Sidney Crosby misses a year or Marc Savard retires due to concussion symptoms, I tend to think the NHL views concussions seriously. When Jason Bay or Justin Morneau miss a year — despite the fact that baseball isn’t even a contact sport — I tend to think MLB takes concussions seriously. When countless NFL players play a week or two after getting concussed, I think that the NFL wants to give the appearance that they take concussions seriously.

    • greylocks

      While I agree with your overall point, I don’t think the NHL took the concussion issue anywhere near as seriously as people think until after Crosby’s fiasco.

      There is considerable evidence that he was first concussed by Steckel’s hit in the All-Star game, and that no one made any real effort to determine if Crosby was okay. Hence, he played in the Lightning game. We probably won’t know the whole story until the memoirs come out, but there’s no way he was not concussed by the Steckel hit, and either it wasn’t diagnosed or it was covered up.

      Even when he finally came back, there’s an argument to be made that concussions still weren’t being taken seriously enough, at least in Pittsburgh. Crosby was delivering checks at every opportunity. Why? How stupid can you get? I lost what little respect I had for Bylsma for allowing Crosby to be checking at all.

      Hockey coaches have an obligation to protect their scorers, even when they’re healthy. Until everyone was absolutely sure he was okay, Crosby should have been under orders not to deliver hard hits, and he never should have been out on the ice without an AHL goon shadowing him to take out anyone who tried to put a hit on him.

      I think the NHL and NHLPA only got truly serious about concussions after Crosby’s second sit-out and the loss of Savard.

      And also, player discipline was a joke when Campbell was handing out suspensions. Shannie clearly takes the concussion problem seriously, and while we might quibble about individual decisions, he’s been consistent in throwing the full legal book at players who deliberately do the sort of shit that causes concussions.

      • gorillagogo

        I don’t think the NHL took the concussion issue anywhere near as seriously as people think until after Crosby’s fiasco.

        That’s a fair point. I think the NHL has gotten a lot better and I also think they’ve got a long ways to go.

      • Two words: Eric Lindros.

        They took concussions seriously enough before Crosby. They may have doubled down since.

        • greylocks

          I’m not even sure about that. Maybe if Brett Lindros hadn’t also had concussion issues. But because they were brothers, I think a lot of people in hockey told themelves it was some kind of genetic thing and the Lindros brothers were just unlucky.

          Furthermore Eric had played quite a few years before he had to quit, and had played at a premiere level for most of that, which gave a lot of people in hockey an excuse to think the concussion problem was overstated.

          Yes, there was a lot of chatter about concussions, and maybe some teams tried a little harder to implement protocols and keep concussed players off the ice, but I don’t personally recall that anything truly substantive was done across the board. Talk != action.

        • hickes01

          Two more words, Derek Boogaard. I don’t think the NHL has taken concussions seriously at all because they aren’t doing enough about to PREVENT concussions. Fighting has not been banned. Equipment standards are not enforced. Punishments are not severe enough to prevent dangerous cheap shots.

          Take helmets for example. I see too many players skating around with flimsy, ill-fitting, unsecured helmets, and no mouth guards. If they were serious about prevention, they develop a rigorous safety standard and enforce it.

          And don’t get me started on the league culture that encourages marginal, lead-footed morons to take cheap shots at the skilled and talented players to “slow them down”.

  • I hold the same position about steroids: be my guest, so long as you are aware of the dangers and lifelong likelihood that you will die an early, horrible death.

    But those are, as you point out, choices made in the cool light of deliberation. After a concussion? Not so much.

  • Malaclypse

    Many years ago, I got hit by a car while biking. Relatively minor stuff, and I was doing the stupid male “no, I’m fine” thing. Cop asks me if I was wearing a helmet, I reply that of course I was. He looks at the helmet, which is pretty banged up.

    He then says “I’m going to ask you if you want to go to the hospital. If you say yes, I’ll call an ambulance. If you say no, well, you hit your head, based on your helmet, and I’ll make sure you go to the hospital, in restraints if I need to. Do you want to go to the hospital?”

    As it turns out, I was fine, especially after they gave me powerful narcotic painkillers. But I’m still glad the cop made me go. The idea that someone, especially a young adult male, can make rational health decisions while concussed in absurd.

  • DrDick

    Having been concussed myself, I can only say that this is not a time when you should be allowed to make those kinds of decisions and you emphatically should not continue playing.

  • witless chum

    Agree with the main point, but really “was clearly concussed” Dr. Loomis?

    Bill Frist was roundly criticized for similar, though he was 1.) doing so in service of evil 2.) basing senate business, not a post on hisblog— Cute Cat Pictures of Cats I Adopted so I could Dissect them—on his TV footage diagnosis 3.) was at least a doctor.

    • rea

      Witless chum, he was displaying a well-known symptom of concussion visible to the cameras, e. g., he barfed on the field.

      • bradP

        There are plenty of examples where the concussion is even more plain:


        • witless chum

          Yeah Brad, as an MSU fan, that’s the specific piece of total bullshit I was thinking of when I read this.

          I find the fact that Will Gholston said he wasn’t concussed hours after the fact AND that he passed a concussion test on the sideline to be of more weight than what a bunch of watching on TV think. I have no idea if he was or wasn’t concussed. Are there weaknesses in the tests they do on the sideline? No idea. But trusting TV diagnosis by layman is just stupid.

          That post you link specifically was a huge fail on the normally excellent KJ’s part, especially as it was quoting from a post by Brian Cook of Mgoblog who can’t or won’t be rational about anything involving MSU. Cook’s post, linked above by KJ, looks even more stupid after the allegedly evil Spartans coaching staff held their starting left tackle, Dan France, out of the game against Michigan they desperately needed to win because he’d suffered a concussion in practice. Defensive end, which Gholston plays, is a much deeper position on the MSU roster, so if the coaches were hustling players back on the field because they needed them, France would have been hustled and Gholston not so much.

      • Stag Party Palin

        Yes indeed. I was concussed by a hockey puck and ice-barfed 5 seconds later. Did you know that the Inuit have 13 words for ice-barf?

        • Well done. I love that old trope.

        • hickes01

          Have the Inuit come up with 13 ways to describe the stupidity of Sarah Palin?

      • RhZ

        And players don’t do that unless something is wrong.

    • Stan Gable

      I watched the game – the announcers immediately noted that 1) he took two nasty blows to the head on the same play 2) he’d barfed, 3) barfing is a concussion symptom.

      What was almost as outrageous is that the announcers just dropped it after the next snap.

  • UberMitch

    If a catastrophic injury occurs in either profession, the employee or the employee’s family has the right to receive Workers’ Compensation benefits.

    No need to worry; premium pressure from the NFL’s worker’s comp insurers will force the change! Free market, huzzah!!!

  • Left_Wing_Fox

    *This argument is limited to NFL players only. No college, high school, middle school, Pop Warner, or other non-compensated individual should return to play if he/she is suspected of having a concussion or concussion-like symptoms. Period!

    That’s some hardcore special pleading right there. Might as well have a big “Warning: Bullshit Ahead” sign as the article title.

  • Holden Pattern

    Watching the WSU/OSU Game on Saturday, saw WSU defensive secondary drive the top of his helmet into Markus Wheaton’s jaw — Wheaton was out before he hit the ground.[*] I don’t think Wheaton could have come back if he’d wanted to, but OSU took him off, had someone sitting with him the rest of the first half to watch his symptoms and had him in sweats for the second half.

    [*] NO CALL?!?? WTF, refs? This was probably the dirtiest college game I’ve seen, almost all by WSU, and personal fouls were just randomly enforced.

  • This piece is such a massive load of shite.

    “No need to do anything more about concussions, players have the information necessary to make their own decisions. And if they don’t, well, that’s an utter failure by all institutions involved.”

    “The players have the responsibility to make their own decisions because they are compensated* to make those decisions. *Compensation may involve workman’s compensation benefits that can be challenged by the league and subject to arbitrary enforcement and future labor negotiations.”

    “The game of football will be completely changed if the NFL is forced to make any additional safeguards protecting concussed players. Every league besides the NFL should put these additional safeguards protecting concussed players in place.”

    • JKTHs

      It’s the stupid logic that “as long as they know the risk of playing football” there’s no point in taking precautions that will take away from the uber manliness of football. Sort of like as long as you know the risk of dying in a car crash, why bother with seatbelts, air bags, obeying speed limits etc. if it makes driving less fun.

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