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Darrius Heyward-Bey still willing to put his health on the line despite suffering a "heavy dose" of head trauma during his career

Even in the face of the heightened awareness involving the NFL and the effects of head trauma, in most cases a player is still more than likely going to continue to try to play the game he loves. Darrius Heyward-Bey, the Steelers veteran receiver and special-teams gunner who has suffered five documented concussions in his career, is proof of that.

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Darrius Heyward-Bey was pretty much an afterthought as the Steelers 2014 training camp began on July 25.

Seriously, did anyone really think Heyward-Bey, who was the seventh overall pick by the Raiders in the 2009 NFL Draft and never quite lived up to expectations, would make the final 53-man roster?

If you did, that sentiment had to take a bit of a blow when the veteran receiver missed a lot of time in the beginning of camp with a concussion (his fifth on record). Add to that the glowing reports coming out early on about second-year man Justin Brown and rookie Dri Archer--Mr Speed AND versatility (you know, position flexibility?)--and one had to wonder why a veteran pass-catcher with a history of head trauma would even bother trying to battle for a fifth receiver spot on a team with so much (perceived) youthful talent at the position, as well as having an accomplished veteran in Lance Moore who was all but guaranteed one of those five spots, and more than capable of filling the "mentor" role for his younger colleagues.

Ah, but who would have thought a veteran receiver with a history of concussions, who came into the NFL with a lot of speed and, no doubt, a lot of fanfare, would be a willing gunner on special teams?

As has been reported a time or two, Heyward-Bey was more than willing and eager to play that role in preseason games--after also doing so for the Colts in the playoffs a season ago. This, maybe more than his nine receptions for 98 yards and a score in August football, is why he's in Pittsburgh today and one of six receivers on the roster.

Even with the NFL's increased awareness in recent years regarding the effects of concussions and the ever-changing player-safety rules that have accompanied this awareness, it just goes to show that a football player is more than likely not going to stop doing what he loves, even after he's equipped with the knowledge that his future well-being might be in serious danger.

As he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's Ray Fittipaldo on Sunday, Heyward-Bey is certainly aware of the potential consequences of continuing to play football even after suffering a "heavy dose" of head trauma over the first five-plus years of his NFL career:

"You think about things. You think, should I still play? But I love this game, and it's done some great things for me. As long as I'm healthy enough to play, I'm going to play."

What more can be said about the player/team responsibility dynamic than that? Here you have a young man who came along at the right time in terms of the information that's available about head trauma, and yet he's not only willing to play football after sustaining so many concussions, he's willing to make high-speed tackles on punt and kickoff returns.

Obviously, the NFL has gone to great lengths recently to make sure a player passes several baseline tests in order to return to the field after suffering a head injury, but once those tests are passed, can the player still hold the league responsible?

In the same Post Gazette article that was referenced above, nose tackle Steve McLendon, who also missed time in the preseason after sustaining a concussion, is quoted as saying that, if it were up to him, he would have played and practiced. A year ago, former Steelers running back Isaac Redman admitted that he lied about having a concussion in a Week 2 game in Cincinnati.

With McLendon and Redman as perhaps prime examples, the NFL has to, at times, protect its players from themselves. But once a player is cleared and given a clean bill of health, then what? Heyward-Bey is an adult. McLendon and Redman are adults. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is an adult, as is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Maybe 30 years from now, if Heyward-Bey is suffering from some permanent damage thanks to the multiple head injuries he sustained during his NFL career, he might join some future class-action suit against the league.

But right now, at the youthful and seemingly invincible age of 27, he's probably just happy to play the game he loves for at least another season and grateful to the Steelers for giving him a chance to do so.