A recent ESPN survey revealed that 85% of NFL players would play in the Super Bowl even if they had a concussion. Some fans might be surprised at this figure, very surprised in fact, especially when considering how serious concussions and head injuries are to the health and welfare of athletes.
Interestingly, most players today are actually more concerned about ACL injuries than they are concussions, even though concussions and head injuries are viewed by physicians as far more debilitating long-term than ACL injuries. In my view, there are 2 major reasons why the ESPN poll showed that players are seemingly not worried about concussions, at least as far as a concussion preventing them from playing in a Super Bowl.
1.) Athletes are tough. Most great athletes carry a “machismo” attitude when it comes to their training and mental toughness, often being the first to practice and the last to leave. Injuries, therefore, are sometimes ignored or minimized so that the athlete can continue to compete. In fact, some athletes even see injuries as a sign of weakness, and continue to push through their injury as a result.
2.) Concussions are often not “seen,” and the long-term effects are still relatively unknown. Unlike a gory knee injury, a head injury is usually impossible to visually detect – especially with players wearing helmets. Most players also do not think about the seriousness of a cognitive impairment later in life, a condition that often leads to substance abuse and even suicidal ideation. To think about issues that might happen 20 years from now seems very far off, whereas seeing a player limp off the field is more in the “here and now” and often more vivid and dramatic for players (hence the reason why most players fear knee injuries than they concussions).
In some ways the 85% figure ESPN found might actually be low if you can believe it, especially when you consider the reasons I just described. Of course, there are additional factors to consider, including the allure of the Super Bowl, the additional money that can be earned, and future endorsement deals that might come in after the game. Unfortunately, even with those additional reasons to play through a concussion, they still don’t offset the seriousness of head injuries and the related long-term effects that players sometimes ignore or overlook altogether.