SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jim Brown isn't surprised by the rise in diagnosed concussions among NFL players and says the league and the union need to do more to protect those players.
Speaking at the Santa Clara Sports Law Symposium on Thursday, the 74-year-old Hall of Famer bemoaned what he says has been the NFL's historical denial of injuries at the cost of winning.
Brown, who will join NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell this weekend at a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, also said players have to be better educated about their own health so that they don't attempt to hide the injuries.
Four players suffered concussions this past Sunday during the NFL's opening weekend: Philadelphia quarterback Kevin Kolb and linebacker Stewart Bradley, Carolina quarterback Matt Moore and New York Giants tight end Kevin Boss.
Dr. Hunt Batjer, co-chairman for the NFL's Brain, Head and Neck Medical Committee, said earlier this week he didn't see the concussions suffered by the four players as part of a trend, adding that the league and its medical staff will closely monitor the situation through the season.
Brown, a longtime activist and proponent for change in the health care of current and former NFL players, thinks the concussions are symptoms of a larger issue
"Concussion have brought the consciousness to the problem but I think the problem is football-related injuries period and the lack of support from the league of those players who have suffered those injuries," Brown said. "The denial factor has been unbelievable. I'm here because I'm a fighter to try to bring attention to this fact."
The symposium covered a variety of topics, from performance enhancing drugs to the licensing and use of players' images. Nearly 150 people attended the event at the cost of $125 per person.
Brown wasn't the keynote speaker but he was easily the most popular and recognizable person at the front table. His message was clear: Professional sports leagues must improve their care and education of the athletes.
Specifically, Brown blasted the NFL for often turning a blind eye to head injuries suffered by players. The league, he says, promotes hard hits but doesn't do enough to deal with the ramifications.
"It doesn't take science to know that when you have head-to-head collisions, there's going to be some effect," Brown said. "Boxing is a great example of it but in football sometimes you're taking greater hits than boxers. When you have one man going full speed against another man and those heads are colliding, it's just the fact of science you're going to have results.
"All the denial that's taken place over the years to keep the league from having to pay money or the players association taking advantage of their players and not representing them properly, all those things have gone on. Only now years later here we are saying concussions. People have been getting knocked out for years and going back in the game unsupervised."
Brown lauded the NHL for its efforts in diagnosing and treating head injuries and said the NFL needs to follow suit.
"People want football and they want hard-hitting football, so to me it's not the thing of hard-hitting football," Brown said. "It's at least taking care of your wounded. I don't want football to not be played but I would like the sophistication brought forth to take care of those who need to be taken care of and to take the precaution, at the sacrifice of winning, to take care of people."
This past June, Brown was presented with the Blanton Collier Award by the Kentucky chapter of the NFLPLA to acknowledge his humanitarian work. Brown's Amer-I-Can organization helps gang members from inner cities move toward a more productive life and he is also involved with numerous other charities.
His current passion, however, is forcing change in the NFL on numerous levels. Brown talked about the need to revamp the league's pension plan and health care system, as well as a rookie salary cap.
Historically, Brown says, the NFL has looked the other way when players suffer concussions in order to keep the player on the field despite the increased risk of injury.
Bradley hit his head against a teammate's leg and struggled to get up before falling helmet-first onto the ground in the Eagles' 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. He returned for a handful of plays before being pulled for the remainder of the game.
Kolb was hurt shortly after Bradley was, though the Eagles originally reported it as a jaw injury. Like Bradley, Kolb came back in the game briefly before heading to the sidelines.
Part of the problem, Brown says, is the lack of education among athletes.
"Players have to recognize when something is wrong and stand up," Brown said. "That's something that's going to be difficult because players are ostracized when they do that ... so there's a tremendous sacrifice that goes inherently with the game. That's not anybody's fault but the players themselves because we should be able to say, 'Hey, I don't feel good. I can't play.'"
San Francisco Giants managing partner Bill Neukom, Dr. Michael Dillingham, former orthopedic surgeon for the San Francisco 49ers, ex-NFL player Ben Lynch and sociologist Harry Edwards were also among those speaking at the event.