Being a 39 year old man, I think it's probably safe to say that I grew up in an era that was on the tail-end of how people viewed the seriousness of concussions.
As a kid, if I saw one of my heroes get carted off with what looked to be a knee injury, I thought that was catastrophic. However, if a star player seemed to be suffering from a concussion, I breathed a sigh of relief and usually said, "well, you can play with a concussion."
But one of the great things about getting older is you get a little wiser in a lot of areas.
And thanks to many eye-opening stories about the effects of multiple-concussions, I now realize that they are way more serious than just a "ding to the head."
I think one of the first things that really made me more aware was hearing former Steeler Merril Hoge, who suffered multiple concussions during his career, discuss the many struggles he faced with post-concussion syndrome, like not being able to find his way home everyday for months at a time. Can you imagine that?
And if you're currently living in Pittsburgh, or are a Penguins fan, I'm sure you know the struggles that superstar player Sidney Crosby has had as he's missed the better part of a year because of the effects of two concussions he suffered in January. It was a little touch-and-go there for a while as to whether or not Crosby would ever play again. Here's a guy, just 24 years old, already the best player in hockey, and he almost had is career cut short because of concussions; and nobody knows for sure what will happen the first time Crosby takes a hard shot to the head.
If stories like those don't open your eyes, I don't know what will.
Over the past couple of seasons, the NFL has gone to great lengths to try and reduce the number of violent, concussion-inducing head shots in football.
Steeler Nation is well-aware of this, as Steeler players have been subjected to many penalties and fines over the course of the past year or so.
Last year, James Harrison was on the receiving end of multiple-penalties and fines for his hard-hitting style and threatened to retire out of frustration with not being able to play the game the way he was taught.
This season, hard-hitting Steelers safety Ryan Clark was penalized in successive weeks for helmet-to-helmet hits in the Patriots and Ravens games respectively.
For his hit on tight end Ed Dickson in the Baltimore game, and for being a repeat offender, Clark was fined $40,000 last week. This outraged many in Steeler Nation (I personally thought it was a clean hit), as well as head coach Mike Tomlin, who said he used the video of Clark's hit to demonstrate proper tackling technique.
Clark was beyond frustrated with trying to figure out the league's inconsistencies in legislating these new rules on safety and said, "I might as well put him to sleep for real or blow out his knee."
Witnessing the constant struggle between a league trying to make an inherently violent game safer and a group of players trying to figure out how they're supposed to make a nice and safe football tackle without causing any trauma to an opponent's head, I can't help but recall what happened just 22 years ago, on December 10th, 1989, in a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets at the old Meadowlands.
Safety Thomas Everett and linebacker Greg Lloyd were sort of the Clark and Harrison of their day. Everett was known for his hard-hits, and Lloyd was known for many things, including his abrasive disposition.
During the contest, a 13-0 Steelers victory, Everett hit Jets receiver Al Toon with a vicious shot as he tried to catch a pass over the middle.
Toon was laid out in the middle of the field, and Lloyd decided to get down next to the receiver and count him out "1-2-3" WWE-style. I don't remember if Toon suffered a concussion on the play, (he did suffer many throughout his career), but he had to be attended to following Everett's hard hit.
As a 17-year old, I thought what Lloyd did it was the greatest thing in the world. Like a lot of teenagers, I was into professional wrestling big-time and saw Lloyd's demonstration as a rallying cry for my Steelers as they were in the beginning stages of a memorable run to the playoffs.
Like I said earlier, concussions weren't viewed with the seriousness they are today, by me or the NFL.
I don't remember if Lloyd or Everett was fined, and I don't recall much controversy following Lloyd's actions, but can you imagine if something like that were to happen today?
We live in a totally different time now with the 24/7 news cycle, and any questionable act or comment is almost always the subject of great scrutiny.
In today's world, the "reaction" is almost an industry all by itself. When something happens or someone says something, the reaction to it almost takes on a life of it's own.
Just a few weeks ago, following a game between Detroit and Atlanta, Lions' all-world defense lineman Ndamukong Suh came under fire for supposedly exclaiming "get the cart!" immediately after Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan was injured. Suh had to face the music and deny that he would ever find joy in an injury to an opposing player.
A number of years ago, a brawl broke out during a college football game between Miami and Florida International. During the brawl, former Hurricane's receiver Lamar Thomas, then a broadcaster for the 'Canes, got into hot water for making controversial remarks.
Here's the quote from wikipedia:
"Now, that’s what I’m talking about. You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. You don’t come into the OB [Orange Bowl] playing that stuff. You’re across the ocean over there. You’re across the city. You can’t come over to our place talking noise like that. You’ll get your butt beat. I was about to go down the elevator to get in that thing...I say, why don't we meet outside in the tunnel after the ball game and get it on some more? You don't come into the OB, baby. We've had a down couple of years but you don't come in here talking smack. Not in our house."
Thomas was ridiculed for his remarks and was soon fired by Comcast Sports Southeast.
And who can forget the time controversial Vikings receiver Randy Moss caught a touchdown pass in Lambeau field during a playoff game against the Packers and celebrated by pretending to wipe his backside on the Packers' goalposts?
Fox announcer Joe Buck reacted angrily and said, "That is a disgusting act!"
If a player can come under fire today for a touchdown celebration (as gross as it may have been), I can't imagine, in today's climate, with such an emphasis placed on player safety, what the fall-out would be if a player were to mimic a pro-wrestling referee while an opponent lay prone on the turf after taking a shot to the head. I don't think it would go over very well, and I think the consequences would be severe.
Even though I do think the NFL needs to find the proper balance between trying to make the game safer and still realizing that the sport of football is supposed to be violent, knowing what I know now about concussions (Al Toon had to retire prematurely after suffering nine concussions), I'd much rather be an enlightened 39 year old Steelers fan who can't believe that Ryan Clark got penalized for a wishy-washy hit during a key moment in the game than an ignorant 17-year who has no clue and thinks it's cool to embarrass injured players.
Yes, we have come a long way, and it's probably a good thing.