The Big Wreck

Football is giving me a headache.

Robert Griffin III—the quarterback worth $21.1 million to the Washington Redskins and untold millions to Addidas/EvoShield/Subway/EA Sports/Gatorade/Castrol Motor Oil—took this hit last Sunday. Griffin didn’t return to the game and was diagnosed with a “mild concussion” by team doctors. A few hours later, he tweeted this:

At the time of his diagnosis, he couldn’t remember the score or what quarter it was. After some rest and testing, he returned to practice four days later and is expected to play on Sunday. He later tweeted his thanks to everyone who cared about his health.

This makes my head hurt. Knowing what I know about concussions and how they are treated in football, it makes sense that Griffin and the Redskins are pushing to get their star quarterback on the field. Taking into account the massive PR campaign the league is waging to convince you it cares about its players, however, makes the last five days of Robert Griffin III’s life seem insane.

The NFL cares about it’s players, and it will tell you that it’s making the game safer. In each and every day in each and every way, it’s striving to protect its most valuable asset: the dudes who slam into one another hard and fast so the money machine can pump out a few billion dollars.

Of course that’s a bunch of bullshit; but the thought is what counts. This goes for most statements The Shield makes about anything. Consider that the league’s other major initiative—a month-long pink parade under the guise of awareness—is little more than feelgood bullshit to boost online merch sales and the warm fuzzies you get from making a difference.

This isn’t about what should happen to RG III and if he’s in the right hands in Washington. I’m not saying the league isn’t genuinely interested in making sure the stars of today are not the closed-casket funerals of the next two decades. It’s probably in football’s best interests if it doesn’t actively kill it’s players. Life expectancy drops from a maiming or two is fine; self-inflicted gunshot wounds are bad for business.

The problem with the NFL’s heavy sighing and strong words is that I don’t believe them. Maybe it’s just me, but the visuals the league provides for it’s concussion awareness simply don’t line up with the logical part of my brain. Maybe I’m biased, but I’d prefer significant changes over a promise and a knowing glance.

NASCAR, for example, happened to see one of its biggest stars killed during a race in 2001. They then implemented a series of safety improvements, both inside the car and out. The sport put safety first because it’s not a good idea to kill off your best assets.

The first car races, like football in its infancy, routinely killed participants in the early years. Unlike football, it killed a few spectators as well. The list of fatal accidents in NASCAR is far too long, but the sport has shown a distinct effort towards driver safety both in car construction, driver discipline and race rules. No PSAs. No comical awareness commercials. No chest-beating about major donations necessary.

In the same timeslot as RG III’s nasty collision on Sunday, a 25-car wreck in the final lap at Talledega had Tony Stewart’s car flipped over and debris strewn about the 2.5-mile track. Everyone walked away from the wreck okay.

Later in the week Dale Earnhardt Jr. was diagnosed with a concussion when symptoms of an earlier, unreported concussion resurfaced in the aftermath of the big wreck at Talladega. Earnhardt will miss the next two races of the season, effectively ending his chance at a NASCAR championship. Junior, who initially tried to hide the concussion he suffered while testing in late August, reported his own symptoms to NASCAR physicians

“I knew having those two concussions back-to-back was not a good thing,” Earnhardt said in a press conference after the announcement. “So I needed to go see someone regardless of if I wanted to get out of the car or not.”

Meanwhile, in the National Football League, the Detroit Lions and their best wide receiver can’t agree on the severity of a head injury Johnson suffered late last month. I’m sure the league is going to get to the bottom of that right away. After all, player safety is paramount in these trying times.