Wesley’s hit brings more attention to head trauma
By Charles Robinson
, Yahoo! Sports Oct 18
Some will try to excuse it as a matter of poor timing. Or just an unfortunate mistake. However, it’s doubtful the NFL will give Panthers safety Dante Wesley(notes)
the benefit of the doubt. Not after executives see the video replay of a nightmarish hit that only draws further attention to the troublesome issue of head trauma in professional football.
Brutal? Absolutely. Dirty? It certainly looked that way.
The play took place late in the second quarter of Sunday’s 28-21 win over the Buccaneers when Wesley, an excellent special teams player with a fairly clean reputation, lined up a devastating hit on Bucs punt returner Clifton Smith
Smith stood waiting for the punt with his eyes skyward when Wesley arrived and laid a crushing blow. But it wasn’t just the fact that Wesley hit an entirely defenseless Smith. The most damaging part of the video was seeing Wesley drive his shoulder and elbow through Smith’s head, delivering a concussion that knocked Smith unconscious for nearly a minute. In its entirety, the video of Smith’s limp body falling to the ground is fairly nauseating.
At best, it was reckless judgment. At worst, it was malicious. And predictably, the hit sparked a clearing of parts from both sidelines as players mixed it up. Meanwhile, Smith laid on the field for several minutes before being helped up and wobbling his way to the locker room. Wesley was ultimately ejected
, and now he’ll face what should be a significant fine and suspension from the NFL.
He apologized after the game, telling reporters that he wasn’t attempting to hurt Smith and that it was simply a case of poor timing. The problem with that explanation: Wesley left his feet before knowing whether the ball was actually arriving. If it was just a matter of timing, then Wesley was guessing on a hit that put another player’s health in danger.
It couldn’t happen at a worse time for the league, when intense focus and research is being put into the head injuries NFL players sustain and the long-term consequences that are suffered. Brain trauma has been a central point of discussion in the suicides of former Eagles safety Andre Waters and former Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long.
And former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson blames past concussion issues for severe bouts of depression and other personal issues he has battled in recent years. And recently, three current NFL players – Baltimore Ravens
center Matt Birk(notes)
, Seattle Seahawks
linebacker Lofa Tatupu(notes)
and Arizona Cardinals
receiver Sean Morey(notes)
– promised their brains and spinal cords to a Boston University medical program that is studying sports-related brain injuries.
When fans and players complain about the litany of flags and fines over personal fouls and hits to the head, they might want to read more about the head trauma issue. Undoubtedly, this is the NFL’s crackdown on the plays that cause concussions and head trauma. It is a dark and troubling issue of which the league is responding. And it’s likely that we’ll find out it’s much more serious than we all realized once medical experts get their hands on more brain tissue of NFL players.
This all makes Wesley’s hit even more problematic for the league. Wesley is an eight-year veteran, and precisely the type of player who should know better than to gamble on a play when the man he’s hitting is completely defenseless. Such a blatant and poorly chosen gamble (if it was that) is exactly what the league is trying to legislate out of the game. And rightfully so.