The NFL has taken advantage of its players by hiding what it knew about the risks of concussions and repeated head trauma, Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis said this week.
Bettis was interviewed by Associated Press reporter Aron Heller in Jerusalem where a delegation of former NFL stars attended an innovation expo featuring presentations by several companies, including one by an Israeli neuro-technology firm named ElMindA that focuses on helping the NFL diagnose concussions through technology.
After seeing the presentation, Bettis said the league has made progress over the past few years with player health but the league hasn’t been transparent about what it’s been doing.
“The problem is we don’t necessarily know all the things the league is doing. For instance, working with this company here, you don’t know if they are working with them closely to try to help solve the problem,” Bettis said to the AP. “You definitely feel as though you were taken advantage of in a way that you weren’t given that information, and you always want to have the choice of knowing, and when that is taken away from you, you feel as though you were taken advantage of.”
Over his 13 seasons in the NFL, Bettis had a reputation for his physical play, earning him the nickname “The Bus.” Bettis was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame thanks to his six Pro Bowls and 13,662 rushing yards.
But as the sixth all-time leading rusher in the NFL, he experienced his share of concussions and said most players likely have.
“I don’t think you’ll find many guys that had a long career, played 10-plus years, that didn’t have a concussion,” he said.
Other Players Share Experiences with Concussions
The issue of whether players suffered a concussion and did not report it to the league remains a hot topic.
Last month Gisele Bündchen, the wife of star New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, suggested that he has suffered several concussions throughout his career, including one during the team’s Super Bowl campaign last season. An investigation into his medical records from last year did not reveal any head injuries.
“There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms,” the league said in a statement the day the news came out. “The health and safety of our players is our foremost priority and we want to ensure that all our players have and continue to receive the best care possible.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick told a group of reporters earlier this month that the team followed the rules and did not do anything wrong.
In the past, Belichick was accused of forcing former linebacker Ted Johnson to play through hard practices while recovering from a concussion. Johnson said Belichick went against the recommendation of the team’s trainer and that he ultimately suffered a second concussion four days after the first in August 2002 as a result.
Johnson said those concussions, as well as others he suffered, had caused him to experience forgetfulness and social anxiety.
In May, former running back Jim Kiick, who played on the Miami Dolphins’ legendary teams in the 1970s, shared his own stories of coaches encouraging him to play through concussions.
“I got dizzy, got dinged a few times. You’d come to the sidelines and they’d ask, ‘How many fingers have I got up?’ And you’d say four or three or whatever, and they’d say, ‘Close enough,’” Kiick said to Sports Illustrated. “We were playing because we enjoyed the game. We were too naïve to realize that, in the future years, this could affect us, our life, the brains. We just went back in and got dinged again.”
The 70-year-old was diagnosed with dementia and early onset Alzheimer’s disease, causing him to lose his short-term memory.
NFL Implements Initiatives to Combat Concussions
The NFL has implemented changes both on and off the field to help fight concussions in the game.
“The NFL invests and collaborates with leading experts and innovators to advance progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy told the AP.
He also said that the league was talking to several companies about technologies that could be used to detect concussions, like the system based on cognitive mapping being developed by ElMindA.
While many former players agree the league still has a long way to go, others are impressed with the direction of the NFL. Former cornerback and Hall of Famer Aeneas Williams, who retired in 2004, told the AP he was happy with how the league was using technology to make the game safer.
“The technology, the adjustments that have been made, players being diagnosed immediately and having to stay out even against their own wishes. In the past, when I played, guys got back in the field or they just disguised it. We used to call it ’having your bell rung,’” he said. “I am definitely excited about today’s player being able to get action real-time as to what’s going on with their brains.”
Along with the possibility of technology on the field to help combat concussions, the league has implemented a new concussion protocol and hired independent doctors that can pull players out of the game if they exhibit signs of concussions.