On Sunday night in a 26-14 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie took a forearm to the head.
As head coach Chuck Pagano confirmed on Monday, Collie suffered a concussion on the play, his third since November of 2010. The good news is that Collie says he's feeling great. Pagano says that the Colts, in deciding when Collie will play again, will err on the side of caution.
The proper amount of caution would be to never let Collie play again. At least not in a Colts uniform.
That's the course of action suggested by Bob Kravitz of The Indy Star. In a thought-provoking column, Kravitz says that the Colts should take the option away from Collie. He advocates waiving the guy.
[The Colts] need to make a bold, brash statement, tell Collie and the NFL, "We will not be party to the possible long-term decline of a player we care deeply about. He may play in another team's uniform; that's ultimately his decision — hopefully his informed decision. But we know what repeated concussions can do to a person, and we will not stand idly by as this terrific young guy mortgages his long-term future in pursuit of short-term gains."
That would certainly be bold ‒ unprecedented, too. And in regard to how the NFL views concussions, things that are bold and unprecedented might be called for.
However, the Colts don't know what repeated concussions can do to a person. Not specifically. No one does, because the research just isn't there yet. Yes, we know that concussions can do terrible things to a person. We've all read the cautionary tales. But there really isn't much we know aside from the very general fact that repeated concussions are bad for you.
We don't know for sure how many or what type of concussions a person can take before their future quality of life is affected. We don't know for sure if Collie, whose concussions have been the dramatic, big-hit, frightening type, is better or worse off than an offensive lineman who instead takes a higher number of lower-impact shots to the head. We're glad Collie feels fine, but we don't know if that's relevant at all to how he'll feel when he's 60. We can wait, we can administer our baseline tests, and we can be as cautious as we want, but we don't know if any of that does any good. Not really.
Personally, I'd feel just fine if Collie never played another down in the NFL. I'm not the only one who feels that way. I will not hear Collie's name again without thinking about concussions, and for the rest of his career, I will feel uncomfortable every time I see him catch a pass and take a hit. I can only imagine what that's like for his family.
But shouldn't I also feel that way about the centers and guards who ram their heads into someone else, routinely and without fanfare, on every single play of the game? It seems a safe bet that some of those guys will have post-career problems, but I don't think as much about them. I don't recall anyone ever watching Mike Webster play and saying, "I sure am worried about his head."
We just don't know who, if anyone, is safe. Imagine if the Colts took Kravitz's advice and let Collie go. I'd applaud the gesture, and then I'd watch Collie sign with someone else, and I'd have all the same concerns. And then I'd look back at the Colts and wonder which of the guys still on the roster were going to have problems as bad or worse than the ones Collie might one day have.
If the Colts want to do something to eliminate their players' risk of post-career concussion problems, I believe the only thing they can do is stop being a professional football team.