In the past few years, the major American sports leagues have become increasingly attuned to the importance of monitoring and checking for concussions. Spurred by the NFL's issues, the NBA developed a concussion policy last year to ensure player safety, even in a league where physicality is more about bodies clashing in the post than high-impact collisions. It's just the responsible thing for a massive league to do.
On the other hand, sports continue to value toughness and playing through injury, to the point where players regularly risk their long-term health for another win. Players who don't stay on the court tend to get marked as weak or soft. So it should come as little surprise that LeBron James, a guy who's probably pretty tired of being criticized for a lack of heart, isn't too concerned with concussions. It's a little bizarre, though, that he thinks he's too tough to get them. From Tom Haberstroh for the Heat Index:
LeBron James tried to get up from the floor, but his body wouldn't let him. A second attempt to rise under his own power was unsuccessful and he descended back to the ground. He laid there for two minutes without a word, clutching his head and deliberately blinking his eyes as if to jump start his consciousness. [...]
Over an hour after the game, James told a sea of reporters that a headache remained. As a former All-State wide receiver in high school, James said he hadn't endured a blow to the head like that in about a decade. [...]
As the questioning about the game winded down, James was asked whether he had ever suffered a concussion in his life. James smiled for the first time in the interview and delivered his reply with an attempt at humor.
"No, I'm too tough for that," James said.
As Haberstroh notes, this was probably a partial joke. But it's also an entirely ridiculous statement, the sort of thing that makes you wonder if LeBron thinks his head is made of adamantium or kevlar. Concussions don't discriminate by a person's ability to play through pain — the physics of the brain smacking against the skull is a little too simple to bow to that sort of toughness. Even the athletes we think are soft have a higher pain threshold than most human beings. Then again, most people don't engage in low-level physical combat with others on a daily basis.
I don't want to knock LeBron for being a poor role model here, because most media outlets stopped presenting him as any sort of paragon of high character around the time of The Decision. But his comments do help underscore how sports leagues can't just reverse common conceptions of concussions with a new policy or strict rules against blows to the head. More than anything, it's a cultural issue, with players being told to play through pain from a young age. For many of these athletes, there's no distinction between playing a sport healthy or hurt. It's just what they're supposed to do, or else they'll lose their jobs or make less money.
It's telling that, after James' comments, teammates Dwyane Wade and Dexter Pittman echoed his comments about how strong and tough he is. They value the same qualities in athletes, because all three were produced by the same system. In a generation, perhaps opinions will have changed. Whatever happens, we can't expect things to shift in a manner of months.
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