By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) And here I thought we had turned a corner in our understanding of the seriousness of brain injury, especially in what had appeared to be a newly enlightened – and legally threatened – NFL.
The league itself is running phony public-service ads to pat themselves on the back for being at the forefront of protection, so the scientific research mentioned by actors in white lab-coats can ostensibly trickle down to youth football, and make parents feel better about endangering their children.
There’s no point rolling out such a PR campaign, though, when one of your most prominent mouthpieces is so shockingly off message.
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- Listen: Doug & OB Postgame Show
- Photos: Texans 13, Bears 6
Cris Collinsworth is the expert voice of the broadcast television flagship property on NBC. His game is not part of the cluttered Sunday afternoon, and it’s not on mere cable. He is the top-dog analyst in the prime-time pulpit, and has been widely respected for avoiding the pitfalls that trap his simpleton counterparts.
That’s why it came as such a surprise to hear him invoking – dangerously so – both the ancient, meat-headed stereotypes of toughness and euphemistic descriptions of serious brain trauma. When talking about Jay Cutler, it’s like he set his fall clock back to 1965.
Cutler scrambled for a first down, getting clobbered by defenders because he didn’t slide. Collinsworth just loved that, lauding Cutler’s guts by gushing “That’s a BEARS quarterback!”
Even if we ignore the fact that Bears’ quarterbacks are historically awful, we can’t look past the fact that one of Cutler’s most famous predecessors at the position is just 52, and already demented because of football. Jim McMahon was known for just that kind of devil-may-care display, usually punctuated with a head-butt to the crown of a teammate’s helmet.
McMahon is one of the more than 2400 former players suing the NFL. He now says he wishes he had instead chosen baseball, citing severe memory loss and other symptoms of early-stage brain deterioration. He has often referred to the sideline culture of “tape two aspirin to your helmet and get back in there.” He told the Sporting News that after a hard blow to the head “they’d ask you questions. Basic questions. Where are you? What day is it? Stuff like that. And if you were able to answer that and seem like you were OK, they would let you back in.”
And that’s where Collinsworth acted even more thoughtlessly. Just before the he-man scramble, Cutler had been hit in the head by onrushing Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins. He stayed down, but stayed in as officials sorted out offsetting penalties. Collinsworth remarked that the delay was beneficial for Cutler, since he could clear the “cobwebs.”
This kind of wordplay is exactly what the league claims to be fighting, cognizant of McMahon’s true stories. “Cobwebs,” “getting one’s bell rung,” “getting dinged,” etc., are being purged from the NFL lexicon. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was recently criticized, in fact, for using the oxymoronic term “mild concussion” when discussing his own quarterback.
Roger Goodell feels the weight of this looming, class-action lawsuit that alleges that the dangers of concussions were actively concealed from them to keep them on the field. McMahon and others have already found a voice substantial enough to help force at least cosmetic changes in concussion protocol.
But don’t tell Collinsworth about that increased awareness, even if those same protocols were enacted earlier in the very same day, when two other NFL QBs — the Eagles’ Michael Vick and the 49ers’ Alex Smith – were removed from their respective games due to brain injury. Or that Bears defensive end Shea McClellin had been taken out already for that reason, in the same game he was calling.
Those “cobwebs” never got shaken out. Cutler was done at halftime.
There will be other stories emerging from this. Why did Bears doctors not determine sooner that Cutler was hurt, and how was he allowed to run seven more plays, including the scrambles? How will his return be complicated by his own concussion history? How much money will Dobbins owe for the head-shot?
I have some questions for NBC’s Cris Collinsworth. Basic questions.
Where are you? What year is it?