Kolb's latest concussion reminds us players are disposable

Kolb's latest concussion reminds us players are disposable
August 26, 2013, 10:15 am
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The day will come when enough NFL players prefer being humans. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Kevin Kolb’s third concussion looked like, well, not a concussion at all. Just a play like tens of thousands of others. Except that it’s been described as “career-threatening,” and that the Buffalo Bills, for whom he is currently employed, are viewing it as such.

This is a remarkable admission, given that most of the time in such circumstances, teams go right to the “Next Man Up” claptrap. One goes down, the next one must ready to pick up the sword, and all that other Dungeons and Dragons idiocy.

[RELATED: Kolb sidelined with concussion-like symptoms]

It’s just a fancy way of reminding us all, player, coach and fan alike, of the NFL’s greatest weapon against, well, everything. That the players are disposable.

It’s why Kevin Kolb’s concussion doesn’t move you much. You’ve been trained over time not to care about Kevin Kolb, or really, anyone not on your fantasy league team. Players come and go. Short shelf life. It’s a tough game. They knew the risks, and blah-de-blah-de-blah-blah-blah. Plus Kevin Kolb is a quarterback whose career arc is pointed down, therefore he is even less valuable to your circle of interest.

But every concussion tells a story, or contributes to one, which is why the NFL got all purply and indignant about ESPN’s partnership with PBS on a story about concussions in football. The show was going to undercut the league at its most vulnerable spot – the idea that players are also human.

[RELATED: With Kolb sidelined, Bills sign Matt Leinart]

The bastards.

This inconvenience is the centerpiece of the entire concussion story. The league has to show not that its business doesn’t cause concussions. It does, clearly. But it has to show that it is doing enough for current players who have been concussed, and has to do next to nothing for former players who now have brain damage because of those concussions.

And the best way to do that is to (a) keep the story from gaining the maximum amount of traction, and (b) remind people that players are just like hammers and saws and chisels and wrenches – tools that break and have to be replaced rather than repaired.

And they have to do that second thing while pretending that they’re not, because the whole giant glass and steel skyscraper of football stands and falls on two shaky cornerstones.

Mothers, and insurance companies.

Mothers, because if the likely after-effects of football become widely understood, a lot of parents are going to steer their children to safer pursuits – like, say, bomb disposal, or mob collections.

And insurance companies, because the minute they pull out of the high school football game, where many of the concussion problems begin, high school football becomes an endangered species.

[RELATED: Kevin Kolb stats | News]

These are the two things – a mother’s stubbornness and an insurance company’s desire to protect its assets – that can withstand legislation and even peer pressure. And the parenting and liability industries wince every time there’s a Kevin Kolb story, or worse, a Junior Seau story, where a great former player kills himself because his post-career has gone crazy because of brain damage that may have been caused or exacerbated by the game that made him famous.

And when a coach sees and injury and yells out, “Next Man Up,” and nobody is there, the truth will hit home -- that players ARE humans, including the ones who don’t behave that way, and yes, even the ones who chafe when told they have to behave that way.

So no, you don’t have to care about Kevin Kolb. Not at all. He wasn’t going to be on a good team anyway, and you probably weren’t going to draft him.

But enough people will, eventually. If not this Kevin Kolb, then another one down the line. There will be a current player whose concussion resonates as frighteningly as Junior Seau’s suicide did. And football, most centrally the NFL because that’s where the money is, is going to have to defend its most cherished if unstated principle.

That the day will come when enough players prefer being humans. We’re not at that stage yet because football is still America’s heroin in ways that even heroin isn’t heroin. But when the Frontline story is aired in October, fueled as it is by the NFL’s ham-handedly inadvertent publicity machine, we’ll be a step closer to the paradigm shift that scares them all.

That players are humans, and while football is great for players, it is bad for humans. Including, now, Kevin Kolb.

In line photo of Kevin Kolb provided by The Associated Press