Nolan Harrison III: ‘Encourage Players To Get Second, Third Opinion’
If not for a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy, it’s possible – if not likely – that Denver wide receiver Wes Welker would have played in Week 1 despite suffering a concussion less than two weeks ago.
It was Welker’s third concussion in the last 10 months.
While Welker’s suspension will be hotly debated in the coming days and weeks, we also need to assess the decision-making ability of players returning from injury. Nolan Harrison III – the NFLPA Senior Director of Former Players – played in the NFL for 10 years, from 1991 to 2000, and he remembers quite vividly, and not-so fondly, the atmosphere that existed in the league at that time regarding injuries and recovery time.
“We were in an era where we were being pushed out on the field,” Harrison told John Kincade, who was filling in as co-host of The John Feinstein Show. “There was no such thing as a training room. The constant pressure to return to play was there – and that’s the environment we’ve been trying real hard (to change) in the last CBA, to make some significant gains on the player side (of it) to make sure there’s better protocols in place for (our guys to) return to play. (That way), they can make more educated decisions for themselves and their families.”
“But when I got hurt,” Harrison continued, “you had guys coming through the locker room – whether it’s the front-office people, the trainers – saying, ‘Hey, you okay? Are you okay? I heard the doctor said you were okay. Are you going to be ready to play?’”
Harrison said there was another tactic that coaches often employed; they would tell an injured player how good his back-up looked and that they were thinking of giving him the starting job instead.
“So there’s always this pressure for your job and for your livelihood,” Harrison said. “If you don’t get back on the field, you could end up losing it all. That culture is slowly but surely being (combatted) . . . to help these guys . . . make better decisions on their own through independent doctors so that they won’t feel that pressure in the locker room to come back.”
But what about players who go against their doctors’ advice? What about players who purposefully fudge their baseline concussion tests or aren’t truthful about how they’re feeling? What responsibility do the players have in this?
“Well, if a player knows that they’re not right and the doctors have told them that or they’re not giving full information to the doctor, then that’s the player’s fault and he’s contributing to a negative environment,” Harrison said. “But I’ve got to tell you. I can’t recall a player that fudged their numbers. We didn’t have baseline concussion tests in the ’90s and the 2000s. That didn’t exist. We just got that in the last CBA. So when I played, you were trying to get back on the field for fear of loss of job. Bottom line. We just didn’t have that guy who was trying to fake it to get back on. The doctors pretty much knew what was going on. If you got a broken leg and you can’t run, you can’t run. Or if you got a torn hamstring, it comes out.”
“So the teams that I played for, I don’t remember any guys faking that they were healthy enough to go back out on the field because the real-world ramifications are if you get hurt worse, (you could be out of the league).”
Harrison hopes the league will one day be completely transparent and that teams will give players every bit of information they need to help the player make the right decision regarding his playing status.
Said Harrison, “We still encourage our players to get a second opinion – even a third opinion – to make sure that they can analyze all the data that they have just so they can get it right.”