By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – The inherent risk of football’s dangers is on display with each physical game and its devastating hits. In-game violence appeals to its fans but brings natural concern for its players. After all, these are sons, fathers, brothers, friends – people, not pawns.
On Sunday in Minnesota, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater remained motionless, unconscious from the shoulder of Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner delivered to his head. Bridgewater was diagnosed with a concussion, returning to practice Wednesday, and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer went after the Rams’ defense and its “dirty” reputation.
Naturally, the NFL world weighed in with opinions.
“Everybody’s got their own opinion,” Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said on a conference call. “The game of football is a physical game, and we’re a physical team. We play fast. But our mindset is never try to go out and injure anybody. We just go out and play fast.”
Added Bears coach John Fox: “These guys are playing a game against the best people in the world at what they do. It’s fast, it’s physical. You’re going to have mishaps – they just happen.”
The violence of football is something that players must keep in mind, especially given the knowledge of what this damage can do. Yet, this is the game these athletes love. This Sunday, Wes Welker will return to the game with the Rams, facing the Bears, despite his history of concussions. Chris Borland, the talented former 49ers linebacker, retired knowing his own risk.
Bears linebacker Sam Acho believed the hit by Joyner was incidental, citing the speed that forced a bang-bang collision, plus the friendship between Bridgewater and Joyner. But each collision like this resonates with Acho, a bright mind and winner of the 2010 Vincent V. Campbell Trophy, better known as the Heisman Trophy for academics.
Acho’s head will be used for greater purpose and innovation after his playing career is over.
“There’s always a concern for head injuries,” Acho said. “I just think back to my high school career, playing and thankfully not having any concussions, even college. Trying to play fast, physical, smart, but sometimes, you can’t control when injuries happen. If concussions start being a part of something I experience, that’ll be something I have to consider a little bit more. But I’ve already kind of counted the cost of that, and I’m willing to take that risk.”
In 2015, Acho has recorded 24 tackles playing in the Sam linebacker role for the Bears. He’s been a key piece to Vic Fangio’s defense, one that prides itself on violence at the point of attack.
Off the field, Acho has worked in the community with various charities. He’s gone on five mission trips to Nigeria with his parents, joining doctors and nurses to provide treatment for natives. Acho also enjoys Shakespeare and is a junkie for learning.
Yet, with every hit Acho delivers, his brilliant mind is at risk. He knows it, too. It’s a terrifying thought for any football player. The sight of Bridgewater lying on the TCF Bank turf Sunday was scary for all to see.
Risks that come with the grueling game of football are certainly on the mind of many of its players, from Welker to Acho and so many more. Football provides an unbelievable platform and financial security to last years beyond the final snap played, but it comes with the greatest of risks.
The 27-year-old Acho has accepted that.
“I definitely want to keep on playing as long as I can,” Acho said. “When you’re in it, it’s hard to see too much on the outside. I’ll just play as long as I can. As long as I can continue to impact peoples’ lives and be a light, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Follow Chris on Twitter: @CEmma670