The concussion debate has intensified in the CFL this week, and the particular focus has been on Winnipeg quarterback Buck Pierce. Pierce suffered a concussion in the Bombers' loss to Toronto Saturday, but as recently as Wednesday, he was still the team's hoped-for starter in their forthcoming clash with Montreal. That all changed Thursday, as Winnipeg head coach Tim Burke confirmed Gary Lawless' original report that Pierce will not be playing Monday. The details of exactly why Pierce has been declared out are still somewhat scanty, but regardless of why the call was made and who made it, it's the right one.
By the letter of the CFL's concussion policy (bottom of article) and its concussion card (created thanks to this national initiative), Pierce may still have been able to play. The return-to-play guidelines emphasize a stepwise progression, but there's enough time before the game that Pierce could have played Monday even if he started at step two after passing concussion tests Thursday. Kirk Penton reports that Pierce was participating in non-contact practices Wednesday (step four), so a lot depends on how the Bombers apply the policies involved. Penton adds there was a chance Pierce could have still played Monday even if he missed practice Thursday. Thus, ruling him out this early suggests that the team's decided they're willing to go without Pierce even if there was still a possibility he could play. That's emphasizing safety and taking precautions instead of pushing the envelope; from this corner, that's an extremely smart approach, and it's one that's taken far too infrequently in football.
At all levels, not just the CFL, many teams consistently push the envelope in search of a minuscule short-term edge. Players do too, which is why Pierce has been so fervent about getting back as quickly as possible. That's a sentiment that's been echoed by others, including Winnipeg receiver Terrence Edwards. Here's what he told Penton:
If you're wondering why professional athletes think about returning so soon after a head injury in this new era of early-onset dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Edwards offered some insight.
"I've been a position where I might not have been always right but I didn't say anything because I wanted to continue to play to help my team win," he said. "I think every guy gets a little woozy time to time and probably sustains some type of small or mild concussion. You go out there, you get some water, and you go back in.
"It's the competitive nature of an athlete to do whatever it takes to win. With the concussion lawsuits going on down south right now, it's a big deal right now. But I think all those athletes will still tell you they wouldn't change anything."
That's certainly true. Despite the frightening stories, athletes from Matt Carter to Katie Miyazaki want to get back to playing as quickly as possible following severe concussions, and they can't be blamed for that. Teams also want their players back as soon as they can, and that's understandable too. However, there are times where the combination of a player's injury history, the persistence of his symptoms and how this latest injury developed (there still should be more examination of how Pierce was sent back into the Toronto game after the hit in question) add up to a level that's truly worrying, and that's why everyone from Dave Dickenson to Matt Dunigan has called Pierce this week to talk about concussions with him. Whether Pierce should play at all in the future is up to a combination of him and the doctors. There are excellent reasons not to play him this week, though, and it's nice to see the right decision being made on a concussion issue.