Week Under Review: Tom Brady offers misguided concussion commentary

In this edition of Week Under Review, Melissa Jacobs questions whether or not Tom Brady is fully educated on the dangers of concussions and CTE. Also, five things for Peyton Manning to do now that he’s retired, Joe Montana’s thoughts on Kaepernick and more.
Publish date:

Welcome to Week Under Review, where we discuss pressing issues, introduce new ideas and rattle off a silly listicle. Get all of Melissa Jacobs’s columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.

Tom Brady is rich, beautiful, pretty good at football and seemingly out of touch when it comes to his sport’s most prevalent issue. When asked by ABC News this week to share his thoughts on the film Concussion and the increased awareness of CTE, Brady’s answer started out reasonably enough.

“It’s a very important topic. If you are going to put yourself kind of in the line of fire, so to speak, you better educate yourself,” Brady said. “I think there’s been more awareness from the general media on what CTE is, how it affects you, the long term ramifications of it. I think, as an athlete, you have to take all those things into consideration. Learning what it’s about, gaining more information, implementing the right protocols, give it the right treatment protocols, and try to be as proactive as you can. That’s what I believe in.”

KAPLAN: Josh Norman relishing his fresh start in Washington

In the same breath, though, Brady continued, instantly morphing into some oblivious incarnation of John Harbaugh, Bruce Arians and the NFL’s concussion lawsuit defense team all rolled into one.

“If you’re going to get injured, get treated the right way, so there are no long-term ramifications for it. You’d hate to stop doing something you love to do because of an injury.”

Brady’s tone­—and you can listen to the audio here—suggests he grasps the NFL’s long-time elephant in the room. But his words make him sound anything but educated. No long-term ramifications?

2015 NFL draft trade grades: Early winners of last year’s deals

Based on a multitude of studies over the past 10–15 years, it is universally known that concussions can cause long-term damage. The NFL even acknowledged this science back in 2009. It is also common knowledge that there is no such thing as concussion prevention—no magic pill, no booster shot, no special type of helmet you can wear that stops your brain from rolling around in your head upon intense impact.

Sure, the NFL has enacted in-game protocols (with various degrees of enforcement) in an attempt to minimize damage but there’s no way to stop or reverse the long-term impact of traumatic brain injuries. Couple that with a Cleveland Clinic study illustrating that frequent sub-concussive hits—blows to the head that don’t result in a concussion—may be just as damaging as concussions and the NFL really has a crisis on its hands. For Brady to imply that following some sort of protocol can cure all is foolish and offensive to the hundreds (and probably thousands) of families of ex-football players who have had a front row seat to impaired judgment, memory loss, dementia and, in some cases, suicide.

In theory, it would be great to chalk up Brady’s commentary to a slip of tongue, except that in the same interview he went on to suggest concussions are just a “part of life.”

“It’s part of people walking down the street. You run, you fall, you hit your head,” he said.

Ironically and eerily, Brady’s obliviousness paralleled that of his Deflategate nemesis, Roger Goodell, who at his annual State of the NFL press conference in February analogized the risk of playing football to the “risk in sitting on the couch.”

Why settle? Cowboys need more competition among backup QBs

We all know Goodell has a propensity to stumble when publicly discussing the league’s burning issues. I’m not sure what to expect out of Brady. After all, he’s an outlier who promotes $2,000 mattresses and creates pictures of himself riding a bronco for social media every time New England plays Denver. But he’s also a smart and strategic person who comes from a sensible football family. In fact, Brady’s father has stated that he would be very hesitant” letting his son take up football in the concussion era.  

Brady needs better talking points on such a serious issue. With Peyton Manning retired, Brady is essentially the face of the NFL, sitting on an elevated platform by himself. There’s no mandate that he use it as a call to action or to espouse his political views, but he has to be more thoughtful when discussing concussions.

The last thing the NFL needs is another figurehead dancing around the issue, acting like there are obvious solutions or minimizing the severity of brain trauma. Be forthcoming with the information available and have a real, thoughtful conversation about the risks and rewards of playing football. That’s how we better educate ourselves.

Montana speaks out on Kaepernick

Brady’s childhood hero Joe Montana didn’t beat around the bush when asked about the Colin Kaepernick situation in San Francisco this week. In an interview on SI Now with Maggie Gray, Montana said Kaepernick’s quiet nature takes away one of the most important relationship check boxes with his teammates: communication. And later, Montana told NFL.com that if “Kaepernick doesn’t want to be [in San Francisco], most of his teammates don’t want him there.”

Games to circle: Every NFC team’s toughest matchup in 2016

Kudos to Montana, who was never particularly wordy with the media during his 16-year career. Perhaps, through consistently hawking products the last five or so years, he has mastered the art of providing a noteworthy soundbite. More realistically, Montana’s concerns are real.  

The 49ers can praise Blaine Gabbert’s leadership all they want, but San Francisco isn’t going anywhere in the short term unless Kaepernick has an attitude adjustment and performs at some semblance of the level he displayed during the Harbaugh Era. Even that may not be enough. As previously written in this space, Kaepernick has alienated some teammates in ways that may not be repairable.

What could be a very long year for San Francisco rolls on next week when OTAs being on May 17.

DeAngelo Williams continues his good deeds 

Williams, one of the NFL’s greatest philanthropists, has been an advocate for breast cancer research and prevention for many years. His mother, Sandra, passed away from breast cancer at just 53 years old, and Williams has four aunts who passed away from the disease before they were 50. Williams’s 53 Strong for Sandra foundation will be providing mammograms for low-income, underinsured or non-insured women in the Charlotte area this weekend.

Williams is providing such a crucial service, and his commitment to the cause is inspiring. It remains beyond appalling that the NFL fined him almost $6,000 for wearing “Find the Cure” eye black last season.

• ​KLEMKO: Looking at how the 15 quarterbacks drafted in 2016 were built

Party of Five

One of the great storylines this off-season involves someone who isn’t collecting an NFL paycheck. What will Peyton Manning do next? He reportedly met with John Madden last month to explore the broadcasting world. This week, rumors swirled that he may return to Tennessee as a coach. Those are fine options but here are five that are better:

5. Become the best Papa John’s delivery boy ever. Not the guy who makes $8.50/hour plus tips while driving a beat-up car type, but the altruistic type. Imagine every Sunday if Peyton, in conjunction with his foundation and/or another charity, makes a surprise pizza delivery to a different underprivileged family. Papa John’s has an exclusive sponsorship with one of the NFL pregame shows, which in turn provides live updates on Peyton’s whereabouts, all culminating in a live look-in as Peyton delivers the pizza to the stunned family. It’s like Peyton would morph into a cooler version of Santa Claus.

VRENTAS: Archie Manning opens up about Peyton’s life after the NFL

4. Start the EQC (Elite Quarterback Club), a real brick and mortar speakeasy where quarterbacks deemed elite by Peyton get a secret code to come hang out and talk about their awesomeness. Peyton can decide whether or not to make a special exemption for his father and brother.

3. Create a fake Twitter account used entirely for anonymously espousing his better-than-anyone knowledge of quarterbacks—and correcting “experts” along the way.

2. Do nothing. Catch up on The Americans or learn a language or spend quality time with his kids or whatever it is that people not obsessed with their jobs do on a daily basis.

1. Become a Saturday Night Live cast member. Has any pairing been more obvious and necessary?