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Leonard Floyd’s concussion battles are a story of caution

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Floyd made sure to speak of his recovery process from head injuries in his rookie season. He deserves everyone’s attention for it.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The game of football’s most timeless unwritten code is “toughness.”

As a player, from Pop Warner, to high school, to college, and even the NFL, you’re told ad nauseam to sacrifice your body for the sanctity of the team. Be it a knee injury, an ankle sprain, or perhaps a separated shoulder, many athletes in football have “come back” from an injury sooner than they should have, in turn exacerbating the recovery process for the short-term goal of a potential victory. It’s cliche but “rub some dirt on it” has more meaning in this violent, gladiatorial game many love than in really any other athletic activity.

For the 2017 NFL and the role model that players such as the Chicago BearsLeonard Floyd who play in this league inherently become, “rub some dirt on it” is much more difficult to apply to head injuries - a science we’re only now beginning to understand.

It’s why some like Floyd want to speak out about his own concussions, as he did in the Bears’ mini-camp last week, even if there are no inherent intensions for some kind of widespread movement. Floyd is one of the Bears’ most important players. On their defense, he’s perhaps the player with the brightest future as a future superstar pass rusher, provided he can stay on the field. He has no immediate plans to retire from the NFL at the moment, yet he’s still making sure to process the trauma he’s endured (two separate concussions suffered in the late 2016 season), as any rational person would want to.

Note that Floyd is a man who doesn’t speak often, who prefers his actions do all the talking. There’s a sense of humility and in some respects, shying away from his growing spotlight. So when the soft-spoken Floyd uses valuable time to say “you just don’t feel normal” and “I wasn’t thinking like I normally think,” in regards to his concussion dealings in his first official public interview since early January, it’s time to offer him an ear.

Speaking in that fashion for Floyd, means his aim is general awareness. His goal, even in a few comments, is bringing light to an ordeal that he struggled with for some time as a green NFL professional, that he knows he could have to deal with again, and whom many of his teammates, colleagues, and counterparts have fought through, or will battle again.

Floyd ultimately feels the need to speak out because words, stories, and anecdotes from NFL players are all we have in being able to connect to what these people who play football at it’s highest level are actually doing to their bodies. Personal, first-hand experience is a powerful tool to help people relate, and acts as more than a worthy substitute for ongoing and still constantly developing concussion research.

“It took me two months to feel like I was really back to myself,” said Floyd of that scary second concussion suffered against the Washington Redskins on Christmas Eve. It’s almost as if his mind entered a familiar void for many football players, where their thoughts are consistently scrambled, a purgatory that they can’t escape from. An incredibly harrowing thought.

What we do definitively know about head injuries, concussions, CTE, and yes, what football players willingly know when they participate in this brutal game, is that football isn’t kind to your head - regardless of your tackling technique or whether you actively try to avoid a blow to the helmet. Head injuries of all kinds are an inevitability, especially as players grow freakishly stronger and faster. The only problem, or in some light, a solution, for guys in the modern era is that there’s much more of a reasonable stigma attached to detriments to your head.

Before, without concussion spotters or more of a league mandate on monitoring any kind of head pain, it would’ve been easy to simply continue playing on in a game if you had your “bell rung” or suffered a “stinger”, once a badge of honor for many.

Now times have changed.

Sure, it’s doubtful every single player on every roster will willingly take themselves out of a game if they know they’ve suffered some kind of head injury. There’s a lot of pressure to make the team, to maintain your status as a starter, or win a big game as the franchise guy. But there’s no doubt that more and more players do indeed understand the harmful effects of what a “little wooziness” was doing to their long-term life outlook, so they’ll take themselves out and report it for their own interests.

And those spotters, who can’t always be 100 percent accurate (human error), are helping out in that fashion as well, even if they could be better.

Again, there’s only so much any party affiliated with football can do. From players, to fans, to administrative league officials, the certainty of a concussion and the symptoms that come with one, have already crashed down or will eventually. It’s just important for the game’s overall outlook to pull back the reins and maintain perspective from any platform.

It’s not “tough” to play through a concussion. The construct of the team doesn’t matter if an individual is putting their well-being on the line more than usual. The ideal of a contract and the player earning said money for playing football doesn’t matter either in comparison to more egregious consequences down the line. Just because they’re paid handsomely to play a game, it doesn’t mean a player’s health matters any less. They are allowed to protect themselves. It doesn’t mean they should sacrifice their neurological standing if they don’t want to.

The NFL’s halcyon days of brutalizing opponents and dirty plays after the whistle for several decades all the way until the past few years or so, are long gone.

Players still play through leg and arm injuries and the like, but understand there’s more to life than the game that mostly gives them everything in their youth. NFL and football players in general have always been at a greater risk of injury, especially to their head. To comprehend a better method of recovery, is a facet that should have entered the league’s public conscience years ago, but it’s not too late.

It’s heartening to see Floyd still in relative good spirits, in the best shape of his life as he prepares for a hopeful breakout sophomore NFL campaign. It’s also exemplary and courageous of him to not shy away from using a rare opportunity to shine light on exactly what concussions did to him. To help others understand, particularly the Bears as well - even if they might not be able to make grand changes.

As much as he wants to refine his tackling technique, it’s possible Floyd may indeed suffer another concussion in the future. He also might not. It’s a fluid and dangerous reality to confront.

Still, outside of groundbreaking new mandates across the league, there’s only so much Floyd can do: speak. And there’s only so much the Bears, the NFL, and we can do for him and others in return: listen.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.