Hines Ward and Head Injuries

Once upon a time, Hines Ward had all the qualities sports fans admire. He was a great player with a well-rounded skill set, a college quarterback turned Pro Bowl wide receiver. He was a fierce blocker at a position known more for divas than physicality. He spent his whole career with one team, and he always played with a smile on his face. What's not to like?

Maybe it was too good to be true. In recent years, Ward has repeatedly been voted the dirtiest player in the NFL, a dishonor normally reserved for defensive players, or the occasional offensive lineman. He was arrested for drunk driving, failing multiple field sobriety tests and refusing to take a breathalyzer. And he has been the league's most vocal advocate against protecting players from head trauma. Ward even admitted that he has lied to doctors after suffering concussions.

"I've lied to a couple of doctors saying, 'I'm straight, I feel good,' when I knew I'm really not straight. But I don't think guys really about the future when they're playing currently in the NFL." That's exactly why the NFL needs standards in place to protect players from head injuries: because they won't protect themselves. The drive to battle through those things is probably part of what makes them great players, but it's not in their own best interests.

The evidence strongly suggests that head trauma has a profound effect on players after their football career have ended. To take two recent examples, consider Jim McMahon and Corwin Brown. McMahon, the quarterback of the 1985 Bears team that went 18-1 and won Super Bowl XX 46-10, is one of seven former players suing the NFL for not doing enough to protect athletes from head injuries. McMahon, who admits to memory loss, said that during his playing career, “It was just tape an aspirin to your helmet and you go back in.” A separate group, including O.J. Anderson, Mark Duper, and Rodney Hampton, filed a similar suit in July.

Corwin Brown was a player and coach, in both the NCAA and NFL, for 21 years. Earlier this month, he was hospitalized with a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a standoff with police and SWAT personnel. Brown's family released a statement reading, in part, "We believe Corwin is suffering from symptoms similar to those experienced by the late Dave Duerson and were caused by the many notable collisions during Corwin's career in the NFL. For those reasons, Corwin chose to not disclose his symptoms, as he did not want to bring shame to any coach, team, organization, or the NFL. We can no longer remain silent and we believe it is important that his former teams, teammates, coaches, and the NFL to understand the severity of this situation."

Duerson, a four-time Pro Bowler and a teammate of McMahon's on the '85 Bears — not exactly a team known for being soft — shot himself in the chest earlier this year, asking that his brain be used for research into chronic traumatic encephalopathy caused by his football career. Three months later, neurologists at Boston University confirmed Duerson's suspicions: he was diagnosed post-mortem with CTE, a neurodegenerative disease linked to concussions.

That's all in 2011. Go back further, and there are dozens more examples, some more concrete than others. Among them are Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, whose case Terry Bradshaw has tried to raise attention to via his position at FOX, and former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, a three-time Super Bowl champion during the Bill Belichick dynasty.

Hines Ward, the lifelong Steeler, isn't persuaded by Bradshaw and Webster. Ward, the guy who lies to doctors, doesn't buy into the findings from research on the brains of guys like Chris Henry and Duerson. Ward, who chose to drive drunk, also chose to play football after suffering concussions. But maybe he's not the best judge of what's safe.

Since no one is forcing you, let's not make any efforts to protect player safety. These guys know the risks, right? Honestly, I don't think most of them do. Certainly Ward doesn't understand, and his extremely poor judgment on a variety of topics reinforces the idea that maybe he should stop taking hits after he's gotten a concussion. Too many NFL players suffer concussions, and too many of them bear the ill effects after their playing careers are over. That's something the league can address without radically changing the game, and it's something that needs to be taken care of. Punchy, macho blowhards like Ward need to be protected from themselves, and if their brains are too beat up for them to understand that, the league needs to step in. Concussions and other head injuries will only become a bigger issue over time.

Comments and Conversation

August 23, 2011

Lyndsi:

Great article. I’m a huge Steelers fan and love Hines but I agree that the league needs to step in if the players won’t commit to protecting themselves. I was super happy when Governor Purdue signed into law a bill to protect NC middle and high school student-athletes against concussions.

This piece of legislation, the Gfeller - Waller Concussion Awareness Act, is designed to raise awareness of the significance of concussions, as well as safety. If a school athlete displays any signs of a concussion they must be cleared by a medical provider prior to returning to play.

Glad we are starting to make progress in schools… Too bad the NFL isn’t leading the way.

August 23, 2011

cd:

Your point is valid about protecting the players, but what does that have to do with Hines driving under the influence?? Are you just trying to prove that he is not that athlete that people should admire. You just wasted your time putting him down instead of trying to come up with solutions to make the game safer. This article was a waste of my time.

August 24, 2011

Tracey:

While I understand your point about head injuries, just what does Hines BEING CHARGED with DUI have to do with this? And just when was he found guilty? You state that he was driving under the influence. Last time I checked, innocent until proven guilty. And even if he was guilty, he is human, and we all make mistakes. You make it sounds as if he has no right to an opinion on the subject because he was DUI…again..he was CHARGED, not convicted. The whole tone of the article is negative to Hines, and it looks as if you are bringing your personal views into the article instead of the facts, and making a personal attack on Hines.

August 24, 2011

Jean Chin:

This article is totally about hating Hines Ward and nothing to do with concussions and the safety of the players. If you want to write about Hines Ward do not pretend this is about something else. Personally, I like Hines and enjoyed watching him play. One mistake won’t make me hate him. There are too many haters preaching hate.

August 26, 2011

Brad Oremland:

Steeler fans, I don’t hate Hines Ward, though I certainly don’t like him any more. But I believe he is on the wrong side of the head injury issue, and he has been very vocal about loosening the rules and allowing players to take the field even when they have just suffered a serious head injury, the kind we now know can contribute to devastating ailments later in life.

Ward’s position on this issue is dangerous, but to say that this article is “totally about hating Hines Ward and [has] nothing to do with concussions and the safety of the players” is ludicrous. The whole middle portion of the article never mentions Ward. This isn’t about a vendetta, it’s about criticizing the public position an athlete has taken on an important issue.

The drunk driving citation is simply an interesting counterpoint to highlight the choices Ward makes: if he regards drunk driving as an acceptable risk, he’s probably not a good judge of whether or not playing with concussions is an acceptable risk.

Thanks for reading.

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