If there is anyone in football who can disclose a brain injury without fear of repercussions, it’s Tom Brady.
He is undisputedly tough, undisputedly a team player, undisputedly a champion.
He is also secure in his legacy, his finances and his place in the New England Patriots organization.
So it’s important that the Patriots’ quarterback speak up following his wife’s admission in a recent CBS interview that he has had multiple undisclosed concussions.
This isn’t about a potential league protocol violation as much as it is about public awareness: It would do a lot of good to hear from Brady – even if he had no concussions at all – and it would be a missed opportunity if he kept quiet.
Look at it from the perspective of someone who works every day on head trauma awareness:
“By not revealing it, hiding from it, it contributes to, one, the stigma surrounding it, and, two, the notion that it’s no big deal,” says Mark Herceg, who is chair of the Westchester County Concussion Task Force. “That can be dangerous over time, especially for younger kids.”
Both the stigma and the silence came through in Gisele Bundchen’s interview. “He had a concussion last year,” Bundchen told Charlie Rose. “He has concussions pretty much every – I mean, we don’t talk about it. But he has concussions and I don’t really think it’s a healthy thing for your body to go through.”
“We don’t talk about it” is part of the problem, says Herceg, who is a sports neuropsychologist.
“I think when it comes to anything related to brain injury, however minor it may be, people get scared and don’t want to address it,” he explains. “They think if they don’t think about it, it will go away. No other part of the body or injury is handled this way.”
So it would be helpful for a lot of people if Brady did talk about it. Even if his wife misspoke, that itself would shed some light on the misunderstanding of concussions (which is also a problem). What are the signs and symptoms, and what aren’t? Many people don’t know.
Bundchen also touched on another important misconception when she said, “I don’t really think it’s a healthy thing for your body to go through.”
It’s certainly not, as any brain injury has the potential for short-term and long-term side effects. But Brady has taken a career’s worth of hits and he’s better than ever. Does that mean he’s immune from potential problems? No. But it is a reminder that the brain is resilient. Brady takes superb care of himself, and that boosts brain health.
“The fear of having a brain change or be damaged causes anxiety,” says Herceg. “But we know the brain has plasticity and does heal if treated the right way when injured.”
That’s an important message. Admitting a concussion may feel like weakness in the moment, but it’s strength in the longer run. Any player who speaks openly about symptoms gives himself a better chance at a full recovery.
Of course there’s the other factor in this situation: deflate-gate. There’s a looming belief the Patriots are sneaky and deceptive. Admitting a cover-up of a concussion would give the NFL a cause for punishment, and give detractors more fuel for spite.
The NFL is looking into Bundchen’s claim, along with the NFL Players’ Association.
“We have reviewed all reports relating to Tom Brady from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and certified athletic trainer spotters who worked at Patriots’ home and away 2016 season games as well as club injury reports that were sent to the league office,” the NFL said in a statement. “There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms. Today we have been in contact with the NFLPA and will work together to gather more information from the club’s medical staff and Mr. Brady.”
Ideally, if there were a concussion, the message from both player and league would be the importance of disclosure rather than the punishment. Hopefully that’s something the NFL is aware of in this case. The worst outcome is a chilling effect not only on players, but their loved ones. Bundchen should be commended, not chided.
Silence from both husband and wife is a possible outcome here. There may have been no concussion, Bundchen may have misspoken, and Brady undoubtedly wants a well-deserved, controversy-free offseason.
But this is still a chance for Brady to reach out to the football community. He can say he would be and will be forthcoming anytime he has concerns or symptoms. A Facebook post would do it.
There’s a lot of pressure on him. There’s pressure from within, and pressure from people who’d like to see him fail. He gets a ton of scrutiny, and a competitor like him does not want to yield.
But if Tom Brady can’t talk openly about concussions without worry, it doesn’t bode well for the countless athletes who wonder if they should.
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