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Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Chris Owusu and concussions in the news

By Kevin Gemmell

I was a little surprised last week at Chris Owusu's comments regarding concussions.

In an article in the San Jose Mercury News, Owusu, who suffered three concussions in a 13-month span that included the horrific scene in Corvallis, Ore., last season, distanced himself as much as possible from his history of head injuries.
"I just want to move forward. It's unfortunate that I'm part of this conversation. But hopefully in the next couple of months, I'll finally get to change that. I don't want to be known as someone who is surrounded by this topic."
Chris Owusu
The concussion he suffered at Oregon State ended Chris Owusu's senior season at Stanford.
Part of me understands where he's coming from. Owusu was an undrafted free agent and he's doing his best to impress his new employers -- the San Francisco 49ers and former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh -- and he's trying to make a team.

This isn't going to be a Owusu-should-hang-'em-up story. Because he shouldn't. He has a dream. He has the physical and mental faculties to live out that dream and, more importantly, he has the blessings of doctors to play. Go for it.

But why distance yourself from concussion talk? This is a time when it's most important to be talking about concussions.

Owusu -- clearly an intelligent individual, as Stanford grads tend to be -- could be at the forefront of change. Tell your story. Tell the doctors and the general managers that concussions are dangerous, but they aren't contagious. Owusu took some of the hardest hits I've ever seen in football. He was strapped to a gurney and taken off a football field via ambulance. And now he's fighting for a spot on an NFL roster. That's something he should be proud of, not running from. Some might even call it gritty and inspirational.

There will always be coaches and general managers who will dismiss Owusu regardless of what the doctors say. There are also GMs who won't take quarterbacks shorter than 6-foot-3, running backs taller than 6 feet and defensive ends less than 260 pounds. Doug Flutie, Eddie George and James Harrison would disagree.

In an interview last month with SI's Jim Trotter, Owusu talks about how he reluctantly agreed to be shut down for the rest of his senior season following the Oregon State incident.
"Did I put up a fight a couple of times to get back on the field? Yes, I did, because I love the game so much," says Owusu. "When you get the game taken away from you like that, it's something where it opens your eyes and it's frustrating. I respect what the coaches and the doctors and the medical staff did for me here at Stanford, I really do. They looked out for my overall well-being and did not take any chances. But could I have played? I felt that I could have. Did they do what they felt was in my best interest? In their eyes, I think they did. But it was a frustrating process."

Of course it was frustrating. Owusu is a football player. But cooler and less-concussed heads prevailed, and Owusu is clearly thankful for that.

I don't expect Owusu to change his style of play, nor do I expect his concussion history to affect his game in the future. He's healed and cleared. That should be that. But with so much talk about concussions and the lingering impact, this strikes me as something Owusu should be running toward, not from. Concussions are a scary part of the game and Owusu has shown tremendous courage by getting back out on the field. He can show the same kind of courage off the field by educating and informing from his past experience.