Chairman: Brian Urlacher just honest

Updated: February 16, 2012, 11:49 AM ET
Associated Press

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears chairman George McCaskey says Brian Urlacher was simply being honest when he told HBO he would hide concussion symptoms from team doctors.

He also was quick to point out his star linebacker didn't say that was the right thing to do.

McCaskey said it was just an "honest reaction" from someone who, like most players, doesn't want to let down his teammates and coaches.

"There's a warrior mentality, and this is exactly the reason we are here today," he said.

McCaskey was at Bears headquarters addressing high school coaches and players attending a health and safety forum put on by the team and NFL on Wednesday.

Northwestern neurosurgeon Dr. Hunt Batjer, who is also the co-chair of the NFL Head, Neck & Spine Committee, and Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth of the Midwest Center for Concussion Care in suburban Chicago were on hand, as was Bears trainer Chris Hanks and long snapper Patrick Mannelly.

The long-term effects of repeated blows to the head have dominated discussions in the NFL, the NCAA and into high schools, with states passing laws intended to protect young athletes from trauma.

High-profile cases such as former Bears safety Dave Duerson's suicide and the suicide of professional wrestler Chris Benoit after he murdered his wife and young son have shined a light on the issue, but that "warrior mentality" remains.

There was Urlacher causing a stir recently when he told HBO during a "Real Sports" taping that he wouldn't be honest if he experienced symptoms.

"If I have a concussion these days, I'm going to say something happened to my toe or knee just to get my bearings for a few plays," he said. "I'm not going to sit in there and say I got a concussion, I can't go in there the rest of the game."

McCaskey said Urlacher hasn't suffered a concussion "that I'm aware of" and that he was "just talking about a hypothetical situation."

"By his own admission, maybe not the wisest course of action," McCaskey said. "That shows his desire. And that shows the mentality."

That doesn't mean it's the right mentality. That's a message McCaskey, Mannelly and the medical personnel tried to drive home.

They urged the players to be honest, to look out for themselves and their teammates, and to tell their coaches and trainers if something is wrong.

The problem is concussions can be difficult to detect, unlike a broken bone, and a player might not realize there's something wrong. Or, he'll try to tough it out.

"This isn't something (where) you play hurt," Mannelly said. "This is your life."

The NFL has cracked down on flagrant hits in recent years and toughened its guidelines for treating players with concussion symptoms. It moved kickoffs up 5 yards to the 35 in an effort to reduce the number of hits players absorb, which Batjer said reduced concussions by 50 percent on those plays.

The league has also promoted concussion legislation requiring education for parents and coaches at the lower levels in an effort to help prevent and properly treat head injuries. Yet former players have also criticized the NFL for denying benefits or making it difficult to attain them.

The Bears are involved in a dispute with former linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who claims he is owed $900,000, the Chicago Tribune reported last month. Hillenmeyer was released a year ago after missing almost all of the 2010 season with a concussion.

Hillenmeyer got cut after doctors recommended he stop playing. He was due $1.8 million in 2011, and he believes he is owed half that under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, according to the Tribune.

McCaskey would not discuss that on Wednesday, saying, "That's a legal matter being handled by league counsel, and I can't comment on a pending legal matter."

As for blows to the head, that's a personal issue for him. McCaskey's son suffered a concussion playing football as a high school senior and wasn't the same for about five months.

"Generally, he's a very happy-go-lucky kid," McCaskey said. "He was very irritable, easily angered, and the most frustrating thing was he knew something wasn't right and it took him through baseball season to fully recover."


Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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