Originally written on In The Neutral Zone  |  Last updated 10/23/14
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It’s the marquee Monday Night matchup of the season thus far: the 7-2 Chicago Bears, led by quarterback Jay Cutler, travelling to San Francisco to take on the 6-2-1 host 49ers, led by quarterback Alex Smith.   What a game! The Bears, the leaders in the NFC North, feature a take-no-prisoners defense that leads the league in takeaways. Their offense is inconsistent, but the combination of Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall is potentially lethal against any opponent. The Niners, leading the NFC West, showcase a balanced offense led by Smith’s 70% completion rate and Frank Gore’s 5.4 per yard rushing average, as well as a defense every bit as stingy as the Bears.   Bears running back Matt Forte vs. the Niners’ run defense; Gore vs. the Bears’ run defense. Cutler vs. Smith! I can’t wait for….   What? What’s that you say? No Cutler? No Smith?   Not tonight, honey. Seems they both have a headache.   More to the point, they are but only two of the growing number of players who have suffered concussions in the last several years. As quarterbacks, they are obviously more vulnerable, and as such more susceptible, to brain injuries.   It’s sad. Sad not only for the fans who expected to see two of the league’s better quarterbacks (at least statistically) on the league’s biggest regular-season stage, but for the fans who shelled out big bucks to be at Candlestick Park tonight. Sad for the advertisers who paid bigger bucks for those fans to watch their commercials and maybe buy their products.   Most importantly, sad for Smith and Cutler and everyone else who has suffered a concussion on the football field. Especially Cutler, for whom this is number six or seven, depending on how many you count while he played at Vanderbilt. Sad not only because they miss their team’s games, but sad for their health, and perhaps sad for their future well-being.   The Centers for Disease Control distributed a flyer called “CONCUSSION. A must read for NFL Players.” It outlines the definition of a concussion (“brain injury.” That would scare me), as well as symptoms and what to do if you think you’ve suffered one.   What the flyer doesn’t offer is a solution. That’s not up to the CDC, of course. That’s up to the NFL. It’s up to the most popular league in the country to take the lead in assuring that concussions won’t occur on their watch, that their fans won’t be deprived of seeing their favorite players because of brain injury, and assuring that after they retire, their stars won’t become a shell of what they were during their playing days.   Want proof? Ex-Bear Dave Duerson killed himself on February 17, 2011, leaving behind a note saying he couldn’t take it anymore because of all the concussions he suffered, and that his brain be donated for research. Researchers at Boston University concluded that he suffered from a neurodegenerative disease resulting from concussions. Specifically, what Duerson suffered from, and what several others also have, is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.   Same thing with Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest on May 2, 2012. He left no suicide note, and his brain was found with no apparent damage, but he did exhibit mood changes and irritability associated with concussions and brain damage. At his family’s request, his brain tissue was donated to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.   How many more Duersons and Seaus do there have to be before the league finally mans up and does something about it?  And if the league is too insensitive to offer a solution for their players’ well-being, at least it could do it for the people who really drive the league – the advertisers and networks who someday may see their revenues decline because fans stop watching.          
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