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updated: 12/2/2012 8:18 AM

Amid Cutler, Smith trauma, NFL truth a mirage

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  • Trainers look at Bears QB Jay Cutler after Cutler took a late hit by Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins. Cutler missed one game with a concussion but returned last week against the Vikings.

      Trainers look at Bears QB Jay Cutler after Cutler took a late hit by Houston Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins. Cutler missed one game with a concussion but returned last week against the Vikings.
    Associated Press/Nov. 11, 2012

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) scrambles for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints. Kaepernick has starred for the 49ers since starting quarterback Alex Smith went down with a concussion.

      San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) scrambles for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints. Kaepernick has starred for the 49ers since starting quarterback Alex Smith went down with a concussion.
    Associated Press/Nov. 25, 2012

  • San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is tackled by St. Louis linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar three weeks ago. Smith had a concussion from the play and has not returned to the field despite doctors clearing him to play.

      San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is tackled by St. Louis linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar three weeks ago. Smith had a concussion from the play and has not returned to the field despite doctors clearing him to play.
    AP photo / The Sacramento Bee, Paul Kitagaki Jr.

 
 

The week after Jay Cutler was laid out by a dirty hit brought conversation from coast to coast about whether the Bears did something wrong in allowing Cutler to finish the first half against Houston.

But Lovie Smith and Co. could only work with the information they had, and at the time Cutler was hiding his symptoms well. Until he could no longer fake it, Smith assumed his extremely tough QB was OK to play.

So Cutler worked through a concussion as long as he could. Once the feeling overcame him while sitting in the locker room, he gave in and Jason Campbell took over.

Cutler is obviously a first-rate player in no danger of losing his job because of an injury, and yet he tried to gut it out and was able to fool the Bears for awhile.

Now consider the case of one Alex Smith, who was the starting quarterback for San Francisco until a concussion knocked him out of a game the same day Cutler was injured.

Cutler was ruled out the next week against the Niners, while Smith's head cleared more quickly. He said he was ready to play that Monday night against the Bears, but doctors wouldn't give him the go-ahead and San Francisco went with Colin Kaepernick.

The second-year QB had played well in relief the week before against the Rams and then had a terrific game against the Bears, so even with Alex Smith healthy and cleared to play, coach Jim Harbaugh went back to Kaepernick last week in a victory at New Orleans.

On Wednesday, Harbaugh named Kaepernick the starter for this Sunday's game in St. Louis.

It's a tricky situation for Harbaugh. As a former NFL QB himself, he obviously knows the football adage that you don't lose your job to injury.

But he's going with the hot hand, unwritten rules be darned. He's trying to get to the Super Bowl, which is why he gets paid. Nothing in his contract says, "You must care about players' feelings."

See where we're going here?

Alex Smith told the truth about his concussion and look what it got him.

He's still a player trying to establish himself in the NFL, and he's seen around the league as more game manager than gunslinger. Harbaugh apparently agrees and he's going to see where Kaepernick can take him.

Being so inexperienced, it's possible that Kaepernick will begin to level off or start to make mistakes that cost the Niners. It might even happen this weekend.

If it doesn't, however, Smith has lost his job to injury and he's lost his job because he was honest about a concussion.

If Kaepernick leads the Niners to a Super Bowl, it will be the end for Smith in San Francisco, which will owe him $8.5 million guaranteed if he's on the roster April 1, 2013.

The Niners would rather pay Kaepernick $590,000 next season if he's as good as -- or better than -- Smith, who has yet to prove his worth.

This is all as a result of a hit Smith took while scrambling to try to make a play for his team. It's a result of a concussion. It's a result of telling the truth. It's a result of the doctors doing their jobs properly and holding out a player they felt wasn't ready for NFL contact.

And this is the dilemma players face in the NFL, in college and even in high school, every week during the football season.

For some, football is the only answer. It's the only way out. It's their only chance for a better life.

Sometimes, one play in one game can make the difference between a roster bonus, a draft selection or a college scholarship.

But playing with brain injuries also opens the door to all manner of horrific disease and an early death. So we implore them to tell the truth and we hound Roger Goodell, Lovie Smith and NFL doctors to look out for these men, who won't always look out for themselves.

Alex Smith has hit the lottery. He will never have to worry about money, having already pocketed $60 million. But he told the truth and lost his job, and maybe he'll get his job back next week or maybe he'll never start again in the NFL.

What about the players who don't have that bank account? You think they wouldn't risk further injury, even debilitating injuries, for one starting job, one huge contract or one scholarship?

Jay Cutler has his money and his job. Yet, he would lie to your face to stay on the field. Alex Smith has his money, but he may never again make the mistake of being honest.

What would a player who has little money or job security say to remain on the field?

That's the question at the center of every NFL lawsuit, and at the heart of every concussion discussion.

Sadly, that is the reality. As NFL fans, can we handle the truth?

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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