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Tunch Ilkin Holds Forth on Head Injuries

Bob Labriola's latest from

Matt Sullivan

In the latest article in a series on, Bob Labriola interviews former Steelers and current radio personality Tunch Ilkin about his experience in the NFL. The focus of the series is an alternate view to the end of football doomsday scenarios so prevalent after the recent deaths of several players, including the self-inflicted ones of Jovan Belcher and Junior Seau.

Labriola doesn't make light of the situation brought to light in the latest research on head trauma, but he does question where the logic is leading, most notably in the third article, "Blaming Football is Easy, not Correct."

In the latest article he interviews Ilkin, and begins the article with a gruesome story about Ilkin's college roommate during his freshman year, who broke his neck during practice and was a quadriplegic thereafter. Ilkin kept up with his friend, who died about seven years ago. Ilkin quoted him:

To the day he died, he always said to me, ‘I would do it all over again and not even blink. I loved football. I loved every minute I got to play. My only regret was I didn’t get to play longer.’ And that was from a guy in a wheelchair who broke his neck on the practice field.

Ilkin went on to talk about the team's practice of concussion management even in the dark days of the late 80s and early 90s. (He played 14 season in the NFL, as an offensive lineman.) It makes for fascinating reading. The main point he makes, though, is even back then there was discussion of head injuries, and even back then 'guys knew what they were signing on for.'

The whole series is fascinating. The first interviews coach Tomlin about his feelings about football as a tool for developing and teaching young men, the second on how many players allow their children to play, even when their career was cut short by injury. I don't know if I agree with all of Labriola's conclusions, but it is an interesting series with lots of food for thought.

Coming soon—an interview with a helmet manufacturer. Stay tuned, folks. We'll have these head injuries sorted out by training camp!

If only it were that easy...