By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) As can often be the case with language, seeing something was different from hearing it.
We listened to Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd on Wednesday after he talked to reporters at Halas Hall about his slow recovery from a pair of concussions he suffered last season. He described how it took a full two months for him to feel like himself, saying, “I wasn’t thinking like I normally would think.”
But the most important comments came with a shift in perspective, from first person to second. It wasn’t striking at the time but hit home when enlarged on the front page of the Chicago Tribune sports section by perceptive editors who understood the critical distinction.
“You don’t think the same,” Floyd said.
This is as starkly and directly as I can remember any athlete addressing traumatic brain injury caused by his or her sport, and he’s speaking directly to another individual. If that’s a player trying to make a difficult decision about what’s best for him/her, it has the simplicity and weight to cut through so much of the noise that surrounds the increasing awareness of head trauma. Floyd is talking about himself but making it about someone else in no uncertain terms. That matters.
More often than not, we’re hearing from a retired and debilitated player about damage long done and any recriminations that may have crept in for the sacrifices made. Not to take anything away from the harrowing honesty of older NFLers describing their respective ordeals, but a 24-year-old like Floyd speaking to a singular audience is notable in its own way.
It’s also something other than the deeply clinical discussion that may have less impact on a young athlete, when we hear about tau proteins and tangled neurons, brain slices and Boston University studies. This wasn’t one of the neurologists whose names are now almost as familiar as some coaches and broadcasters, intoning about the dangers of impacts over graphic video of the inside of a skull, but a current player on the practice field.
There’s more from Floyd, too. In his clear explanation of what he went through, he said, “You just don’t feel normal.”
Again, the subtle change to “you” from “I” should be powerful in a way that other comments about such things have not, considering both the messenger and the message. We aren’t bogged down in the usual medical and legal weeds here, debating league protocols and independent observation or picking through the merits of a class-action lawsuit.
Instead, we’re hearing a young player telling us something important, and we should listen.