- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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The disconnect between commissioner Roger Goodell’s player-safety initiative and those it is supposed to protect is reflected in an ESPN NFL Nation survey regarding concussions and the Super Bowl.
Of the 320 NFL players polled on whether they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion 85 percent said they would do it.
The Steelers were representative of that lopsided tally as eight of the 10 I polled -- players were granted anonymity to participate in the wide-ranging survey -- said they would play in the Super Bowl even if they were concussed.
What’s more, the players who fessed up that they would suit up generally looked at me as if I had asked to borrow their playbook for some bed-time reading when I posed the concussion/Super Bowl question to them.
What, are you nuts?
I can understand and even appreciate why they feel so strongly about playing in the Super Bowl, no matter the long-term risks to their health. It’s not like they are playing medical roulette for just any game. This is the Super Bowl, we’re talking about, and few if any sports in the world offer a bigger stage than that game.
The results of the polling, however, also validate the measures Goodell has taken to rid the game of helmet-to-helmet hits. Players have scoffed and sneered at the crackdown on launching and above-the-shoulder hits and the fines that has cascaded down because of it.
Fans have also voiced their displeasure over the NFL’s safety initiative and how it has chipped away at the essence of the game.
But, as the Super Bowl/concussion survey shows, Goodell has to protect the players from themselves. The cynic would say Goodell is merely covering his league’s backside by trying to reign in players on the field.
Even if true, that is his job as commissioner. It is also necessary given how litigious our society has become -- and the specter of players who are too-shortsighted when it comes to the long-term consequences of head hits and brain injuries later suing the NFL.
That leads to another ESPN NFL Nation survey regarding the NFL’s sincerity on player safety.
Sixty percent of those polled said they think the NFL is truly committed to player safety. But a significant number of players are suspicious of the NFL’s motives for protecting them.
The Steelers reflected the mixed feelings on the subject as the 10 polled were split down the middle on the question of whether the league is truly looking out for the best interests in the players.
I would guess such ambivalence stems mainly from Goodell’s push to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games.
That compromises Goodell on the issue of player safety. It also gives a billion-dollar enterprise the appearance of caring more about the bottom line since adding games would generate a windfall of revenue for the NFL.
Ultimately, trust between the players and Park Avenue, where NFL headquarters is located, remains a work in progress.