Bears’ Urlacher, Idonije tackle concussion issues
Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher understands the emphasis on concussions, but he doesn't believe the NFL is doing enough to protect players from knee injuries.
With Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's status for this week still uncertain due to Sunday night's concussion, the topic of head injuries is heating up again.
Bears defensive end Israel Idonije sums up the concussion problem in the NFL and at every level of football as accurately as anyone:
"Until you can figure out a way to stop the movement of the brain inside the skull," Idonije said, "concussions are going to be a part of the game."
And eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher speaks for a lot of players and for the attitude that is common throughout the league.
"You've got to judge if you don't want to play," Urlacher said. "(If you) don't want to get concussed, don't play. It's your career, it's your life. You have to make that decision on your own. Some guys have shut it down because of that. That's the value of life after football, I guess. If I got concussed a lot, I probably wouldn't keep playing."
Urlacher says he's only suffered one "major concussion," and that was in 2003. He missed "a couple plays." But he's also on record as saying he would lie about the severity of a head injury to trainers and coaches in order to stay in a game.
He said he'd still lie about a concussion and tell them something else what hurt to stay in the game.
"There are points in every game where you give a hit and you're a little woozy," Urlacher said. "Not every game, but mostly every game you hit someone and you're like, 'Whoa, that was a good one.' (But) I don't know how you can lie these days with all the (stuff) they have to see who's concussed and who's not. I don't know how they can tell in the first place."
Players such as defensive tackle Henry Melton know the risks and accept them as part of the deal. Melton said he also considers the likelihood of head injuries part of the game, even though he hasn't had any — yet.
"The life span of playing this game, especially my position, isn't very long," Melton said. "It's kind of funny, but you can't do anything about it. I love this game. You love playing it and you know what you're going through when you're out there. You know what you put your body on the line for."
Melton believes head injuries at the NFL level or even at the collegiate level can be decreased by teaching proper techniques at the beginning levels.
"That should be the first thing that people are learning to do, especially how to tackle," Melton said. "You see guys getting paralyzed at a young age. It should be very important and emphasized at a young age."
It can be emphasized at the NFL level as well, but some helmet-to-helmet hits are inevitable.
"Ultimately guys have to do a better job of tackling or of having collisions using their shoulders or trying to keep their heads out of those collisions," Idonije said. "It's avoidable sometimes; sometimes it's not."
Urlacher believes some of the concern over head injuries is misplaced and should be directed toward preserving the lower extremities of defensive players. When he was asked to provide some safety advice for the league, Urlacher took up the cause for the defense.
"They shouldn't allow cut blocks because our knees are important to us, too," Urlacher said. "I know concussions are a big deal, too, but I think cut blocks are a big deal.
"That seems to be OK with the NFL, so they're not too concerned about safety. They're concerned about long-term concussions, but immediately they are not concerned about your knees or your ankles or anything like that. I think that should be an issue."
Urlacher's major complaint is with 300-plus-pound offensive linemen who can target a defender's knees.
"Concussions are taking care of themselves," the Bears captain said. "It's a big deal to everyone because of all of the older players coming back and saying they're all messed up now. That's definitely an issue, but I think the cut blocks need to be a big issue as well.
"A knee injury can put you out for a season. A concussion you may miss a game or two. Huge difference."
Now some players are wondering if they should decide on their own to sit out additional games, even after they receive clearance to return following concussions.
Defensive end Corey Wootton sounds the voice of reason and some possible guidelines when it comes to head injuries.
"You've got to think of yourself beyond this," he said. "This is what we're doing right now, but this is not what we're going to be doing for the rest of our life. A lot of people have families (or) want to have families eventually, want to play with their kids and live a long life."
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