SEATTLE — Football is a hard, punishing sport that should challenge any rational person's concept of safety.
That's because football is dangerous.
That's why so many of us are drawn to it. It's also perfectly fine to acknowledge.
Playing football requires resolve most athletes lack, and Americans love nothing more than resolve as it is depicted in our forms of entertainment. The busted-up quarterback on the gridiron is no different than a wounded gunslinger on the silver screen.
Except that gunslinger is played by an actor.
NFL quarterbacks (and all football players) are being asked to play with their lives.
Ben Roethlisberger had to report symptoms of a concussion Sunday late in the Steelers' 39-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Had he not, he might have finished the game by playing with a brain injury.
Sorry, a concussion.
We're not supposed to call concussions what they actually are: brain injuries.
Why be honest when lives are at stake?
If you don't think lives are at stake, read Jeanne Marie Laskas' “Concussion” or see the Will Smith movie based off it next month.
Don't stop there, though. There are a lot of great reads about concussions in the NFL, none more startling than Mike Freeman's “Two Minute Warning: How concussions, crime and controversy could kill the NFL (and what the league can do to survive).”
Knowledge is power, and that's precisely why the people in power within Football America don't want the citizenry finding out the truth.
And the truth is the NFL keeps getting it wrong when it comes to concussions.
It's wrong when players are in the position of self-reporting symptoms. It's especially wrong because at every NFL stadium there is an independent medical spotter empowered to halt the game for a medical timeout.
All the spotter needs to do is see a sign that a player is showing symptoms of a possible concussion.
Maybe we can't agree on what qualifies as a symptom of possible concussion.
Or maybe we can and simply don't want to admit the obvious — that direct contact with an unsuspecting player's head should be all the sign of a possible symptom a spotter needs.
Roethlisberger wasn't available for comment after the game because he was undergoing the NFL's five-step concussion protocol.
Step 1 is “rest and recovery.” It should be “stop right now.”
If a possibly concussed player stays in the game, the rest of the steps are all just words and phrases intended to make us feel better when football players get their “bells rung.”
Again, rung bells are possible injured brains.
Words matter most when they make us uncomfortable.
On Sunday, referee Walt Anderson announced that Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett had been penalized 15 yards for roughing Roethlisberger. Anderson said the reason for the personal foul was Bennett had made direct contact with Roethlisberger's helmet.
That contact was on the fifth of a 14-play drive in the fourth quarter. Care to guess how many of those plays Roethlisberger missed?
So I can only presume the independent medical spotter was catching some Zs when Anderson spoke over the public-address system. Otherwise, how can anybody excuse the spotter not calling for a medical timeout to check on the quarterback whose helmet had been hit directly?
There was no excuse for Roethlisberger not being immediately pulled for evaluation by Steelers' medical personnel.
The NFL will have one, though. The NFL always has one.
When will the NFL Players' Association have the proper response to the league that treats its members like disposable razors? The union should demand — publicly — a better system for diagnosis of a possible concussion.
So should the Steelers, starting with chairman Dan Rooney and his son, team president Art Rooney II.
If there's a more respected surname within the NFL, nobody knows of it. A Rooney cannot let the NFL off the hook for what happened in the latest game played by their team.
Losses happen in football. Hits to the head happen in football. Football is bigger than the NFL, but football is the big loser while the NFL fumbles the ball repeatedly on the issue of concussions.
If a player gets hit in the head, that player shouldn't play another snap until an independent medical expert can rule out a concussion diagnosis.
Any rational person should consider that practice safe protocol.
Are any rational people running the NFL?