Alex Smith was the number one overall pick in the 2005 draft, and now there are rumours flying around that he could well be on his way out of San Francisco.
His career with the 49ers has been pretty solid. He has never been the type of quarterback to consistently make the highlight reel, and many have seen him as something of a ‘game manager'; but he has led San Francisco to an NFC championship game, despite playing under numerous offensive coordinators during his career.
For the first ten games of last season, everything was going well for Alex Smith. He had thrown for just over 1700 yards, including 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions. There was no question that he was the man charged with leading the 49ers back to another championship game.
Then – disaster struck. Against St. Louis, Smith suffered a concussion in the second quarter, forcing him to sit out the remainder of the game. And who stepped in to replace him? A young man named Colin Kaepernick, and the rest, as they say, is history. Kaepernick started the next game against the Chicago Bears, leading the 49ers to victory, and he never looked back, getting steadily better as the season went on, and eventually making it all the way to the Super Bowl.
Now, this isn’t a debate about how good Kaepernick is, or whether the 49ers should be looking to trade Alex Smith. This is about what can happen in the NFL when you get injured. Being a quarterback in this league must make you tremendously paranoid. Perhaps more so than any other position. You are constantly aware of the possibility of someone coming in and ‘taking’ your job.
Of course, I have no problem with a QB being replaced if he is playing badly. And it’s only natural that he should be replaced if he suffers an injury that prevents him from playing effectively. And something like a broken leg, twisted ankle, or any other injury that is instantly recognizable, requires a player to be benched, in order for that injury to heal. You can’t prevent those injuries, and it’s difficult to hide them from your coaches. But concussions is another issue, entirely.
In recent times, we have seen numerous instances where players have either lied about concussions or admitted they would lie, in order to keep on playing. Former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith said he would lie, stating:
“At the end of the day, if I can make it happen, I’m going to make it happen. I’m going to do what I have to do.”
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu also confessed to hiding concussions from his coaches in Pittsburgh:
“Yes I have, for sure. There’s so much built up about team camaraderie and sacrifice. Football is such a tough man’s game. … It would be no different than the guy who goes to the mines in West Virginia. It’s that kind of commitment you need to play football.”
We also saw Bears pro bowl linebacker, Brian Urlacher claiming he wouldn’t necessarily be forthcoming if he suffered a concussion:
“There are points in every game where you give a hit and you’re a little woozy,” he said. “Not every game but mostly every game you hit someone and you’re like, ‘Whoa, that was a good one.’ I don’t know how you can lie these days with all the crap they have to see who’s concussed and who’s not. I don’t know how they can tell in the first place.”
This whole culture of hiding the truth from your coaches is nothing to do with being a team player. If anything, it will hurt the team when the brain injury gets worse and forces your star player to miss more time than he would have if he’d been honest to begin with. Let’s remind ourselves that a concussion is a brain injury. Last time I checked, that’s pretty serious. I have never had a concussion, and I don’t know anyone who has. In terms of day to day life, I am sure they are not that common. But it seems that every week during the regular season, we hear of another player suffering one.
The whole culture needs to change, and work is constantly being done to make the game safer and achieve a greater understanding of concussions. The research into the injury is still in its infancy, and the long terms effects of multiple concussions are still somewhat unknown. In the case of former Chargers linebacker, Junior Seau taking his own life, the National Institue of Health released their findings which showed that his brain showed signs of a condition linked to concussion-related brain damage. Seau’s family are now suing the NFL for injuries suffered during his career.
The truth remains that football is a dangerous and violent sport. Players knew that when they signed up for it. But there’s nothing cool about suffering a brain injury. I am among many who strongly dislike grading concussions. We often hear the term ‘mild’ concussion. That needs to stop. It’s wither a concussion, or it’s not. There can;t be anything mild about it. But using that term implies that it’s not that serious. Nothing to see here, folks – get back to watching the game, and forget about the quarterback stumbling around on the sidelines, trying to remember which team he plays for.
I feel for Alex Smith. Had he have not been inured, I am sure we would never really have heard about Colin Kaepernick. But that’s the nature of any team sport. Get injured, and someone will take your place. Coaches must ensure that they don’t put pressure on players to play when they are injured. Especially if it’s a head injury. Surely the health of an individual comes before the fate of the team?
The education needs to begin at a young age. Kids that are playing the game need to be aware of concussions, and what they can mean. Only then will we begin to see players coming into the league that would never, under any circumstances, lie about a concussion. And only then will we hope to see cases like Junior Seau’s become a thing of the past.