No one is more critical of the NFL's new concussion policies than its players. In fact, Matt Schaub's is a lone voice of concern among a group more worried about saving its culture than protecting its brains.
Last spring, the Texans quarterback became an official spokesperson for the new concussion center at Houston's Methodist Hospital, sitting on panels with physicians and fielding questions from kids, parents and coaches. "He's a good model," says the center's co-director, Summer Ott. "He tells the young athletes we work with that their tests, management and protocol to return to play are identical to those of the NFL players I work with."
It's a protocol Schaub is familiar with: He spent much of Weeks 9 and 10 of the 2007 season at Methodist recovering from a concussion. "As football players, we're trained our whole lives to shake it off, tough it out and go back in there," he says. "And that's all fine and good. But you've got to be smart, because it could affect the rest of your life." His is an uncommon sentiment, though. Many of his peers would rather risk further injury than wait for their neurological tests to normalize. As Steelers wideout Hines Ward told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: "It's my body. I feel like if I want to go back out there, I should have the right."
While the NFL does its part to raise concussion awareness, the players have been conspicuously silent; the NFLPA says Schaub is the only active player who is participating in awareness programs. But even Schaub admits he isn't too vocal about his cause around the team. Concussions, he says, are still considered a "necessary evil" in the NFL and mentioning them is like "jinxing yourself."
"It's not talked about a lot in the locker room," Schaub says. "We want to keep the negative on the back burner." Which is
too bad, because the best way to teach
is by example.