NFL Concussions, Sports Injuries and A Pitch For Justice

A Pitch for Justice

We have some pretty basic rules when it comes to sports – if you’re hurt, you don’t play; wear a helmet when necessary, I don’t care what your friends are doing and; if the coach is a screaming, win-at-all-costs coach, we find another one. Very simple. We are parents, we have a responsibility to teach our kids. As adults, we know what hurts and when, like the time I tripped on a pothole while running and had to go to the ER because I was so banged up. I didn’t run again until I was healed. No sense in risking it, especially at my age. Unfortunately, the world at large doesn’t live by those rules – injured players play, kids get concussions and even more kids sit on the bench because the coach would rather win then let everyone learn and get experience.

So what do the NFL, Soccer and the book A Pitch for Justice have in common? Responsibility, accountability and common sense. I read A Pitch for Justice at the height of the controversy over the NFL concussion lawsuit and I found it to be something that every sports fan should read. If nothing else, it will stimulate conversation. Although the injury in the book was intentional, the book speaks from every point of view – the injured player, the family, the coaches, the organization, the player that caused the injury and the public. Not only was it incredibly interesting, it was relevant in many ways.

The book made me think about the clubhouse atmosphere, the pressures put on a professional athlete and even addressed the spending habits of some players when one found himself without the funds to pay a lawyer. He had spent his entire signing bonus buying houses and cars for himself  and his family. As a young player, he spent the money as quickly as he earned it, we often see today’s professional athletes in the same predicament.

Before I read the book, I had no sympathy for professional athletes – they make plenty of money, they know the risks going in and they have no one to blame but themselves when things go awry. I felt the same way about the NFL concussion controversy. How can any person think it’s okay to be on the receiving end of many blows to their body and head? How can they not realize their will be long-term damage? The human body is not invincible. I actually found it offensive that the wives of players were on TV blaming the NFL for their husbands injuries. Weren’t their husbands the ones who chose that career path? Where was their ownership of their actions?

Luckily, I knew someone closely affiliated with the NFL and I asked them about it, let’s name them John Doe. John informed me that there is a lot of pressure to perform in sports, so much so that if you won’t play injured, there is someone else who will gladly take your place. Give them a chance, they might take your job. The coaches put a lot of pressure on the players and make them play injured, if they don’t, they may not get paid or they will be replaced. We know that. We also know that’s a chance you take in any job. Still not feeling it.

Am I being harsh? Possibly. Soccer concussions are now in the news and  Jessica Tonn was suing the NCAA because she was allowed to run with a concussion. She has “accused the NCAA of inadequately educating coaches and athletes about  concussions and not implementing return-to-play guidelines or procedures to  detect head injuries.” She backed out a day later “Jessica doesn’t feel she can commit the time necessary to see this through.” The exact reasons for her backing out are unknown, but that she, and others like her filed suit is relevant. Where are their parents? The NCAA may have let her play, but she chose to play and her parents let her.

At what point does personal and parental responsibility come into play? I realize some medical knowledge is new, but if you get hit in the head, get dizzy and have a headache the next day, doesn’t common sense tell you something is wrong and you should listen to your body? Maybe it’s the same as going to work with the flu. You get up and go even though you know you aren’t well because you need the money, have a commitment or know the new guy wants your job. Okay, I can see that. But the flu is the flu, I know what it is and I know it will go away. I don’t know that my headache will, especially if I get hit again.

Back to the book…A Pitch for Justice lays all of this out very nicely, with one exception, the injury may or may not have been intentional. It was supposed to be, but the player claims it wasn’t, and he’s believable. This twist shows the pressure players are under to do what their coaches tell them. It also set in a motion a fascinating chain of events. The ER visit, the decision the player made to ignore medical advice, his death and the lawsuit that followed. Through the lawsuit we learn about each party involved and how we get to where we are with sports. We are sitting on the border of healthy entertainment and life jeopardizing careers, all for the sake of money.

What’s even more fascinating is what happens to one of the characters in the book and how far they will go to seek justice. The roles of the public all the way to the Commissioner of Baseball are laid out such that we are given an inside look into the machinations of professional sports and the roles we play.

As for real life, I think we all need to be more responsible when it comes to sports. Pop Warner football has seen a steady decline in membership because too many kids are getting concussions and parents don’t want to take the risks. On one hand, it’s nice to see parental engagement and responsibility. On the other, have we set the tone for a downward spiral in all impact sports? Can we find a way to keep the players safe while still enjoying the game?

Do you or your loved ones play sports? Have they played with injuries?

Buy the book, it’s a great read! By the way, this isn’t a book review nor did I receive anything for writing this. It’s just me looking for something to write about.


  1. says

    My boys both take karate and I have seen some kids get really hurt doing it. I also take martial arts and people I take class with have broken bones in class before. It worries me, but I don’t want to keep my kids from learning something new, either.

  2. says

    I used to play sports in high school. If I could still run, I’d play even injured if I could get it past my coach and physical trainer. (We’re talking sprained and rolled ankles, pulled muscles, and even with a bad knee I needed an MRI on.) Even when I was a kid I’d still try to play with broken bones or stitches. But, that’s not their fault. That was totally on me.

    • Karen says

      Completely up to the individual and I have done things injured also. I just hate the blame game. It’s always someone else’s fault.

  3. says

    Nicely done Karen. You related the issues of personal accountability, parental/spousal accountability, and managerial accountability to an increasing relevant issue in sports. Parents are justifiably concerned about injuries to their children in sports. Whether it is intentionally going after players, as allegedly was done in the NFL by the Saints, or just part of the risks of the game, responsible people are reforming the game. In baseball, new rules prevent intentional collisions to a catcher blocking home plate. Also new helmets are being tested and used on a voluntary basis for pitchers to cut down on concussions or other serious injury from a batted ball line drive back at the pitcher. Sport is a great way for children to grow and mature, but rules must ensure that reckless or intentional acts do not lead to serious consequences that can change kids’ or young adults’ lives.
    Thank you for centering your blog about the concepts in my book. Harold Kasselman

  4. says

    This is such an important topic. The emphasis we put on sports has taken over our regard for our children’s personal safety. A Pitch for Justice sounds like a fascinating book.

  5. says

    This post makes me glad that my kids are in marching band :) I am such a worrier. I would be a mess if they played sports and got hurt. I don’t think parents should ever let their child play when injured.

    • Karen says

      I don’t think they get them more, I think it is now front page news because new studies are coming out and they use their head to hit the ball so often.

  6. brett says

    hear, hear!! there has to be boundaries and limits. what are we teaching kids if we’re pushing them to play and work when hurt? they need to love their bodies!

  7. Helene Cohen Bludman says

    It’s a complicated issue but it needs to be talked about, so thank you for posting this. I was thankful my son chose to play baseball and basketball instead of football. It is so upsetting how many kids get hurt.

  8. says

    Love this article. Sharing for sure with some people that have kids going into competitive athletics. A young man we know life was recently altered due to a severe concussion.

  9. says

    My son is so rough and just jumps into things sometimes. He’s about to start soccer and with that he can be quite rough too. So I’m a bit worried but of course I have to start to deal with it soon, right?

  10. says

    My son played baseball last year, and he will again this year. His coaches want all the kids to learn the sport and get a chance at bat and in the field. They are fair and conscience coaches and no child plays hurt or ill. On the other hand, my sister-in-laws kids played football in a league where the kids had to lose weight, train and play in conditions I thought were out of control for kids their age. The coaches were determined to win, and the kids were being trained to play ball at higher levels – in middle school and high school. It was a neighborhood league. I’ve seen kids wear exercise suits and jog the track to lose weight at the age of 10; go on strict diets at the age of 11/12 so they could meet weigh-in. Icing knees and shins from 11-13 years old and playing. So the mentality is out there, and it is ingrained.

    • Karen says

      I think it’s really hit or miss with the coaches. I coached soccer last summer and a father pulled his daughter from my team. Why? Because I wasn’t playing her enough. She should have been playing MORE than the other kids according to him. They kids were 7 for Pete’s Sake. They were learning the game and getting equal play time. People can be nuts when it comes to sports.

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