Dick Harmon: Should Austin Collie take his concussions and walk away from the NFL?
If you are Scott Collie and your second-oldest son wearing an Indianapolis Colts uniform is routinely seen prone on the ground or walking wobbly off the field after a concussion-inducing hit, what do you do?
If you are Scott Collie and a reporter calls and asks if you'd advise your son Austin to quit football because he's had three concussions in 20 months, what would you say?
If you are this father and you pick up the Indianapolis Star and read columnist Bob Kravitz saying the team cannot be party to any further concussions for Austin and they should trade him, get him on the sideline however possible to protect a guy they admire and respect, how do you react?
Well, the father got that call. It came from CBSsportsline.com national columnist Gregg Doyel after Austin suffered a concussion against the Steelers last Sunday.
Scott Collie, I believe, gave the right answer.
"He's going to keep playing — so long as the Colts will have him. I don't know what 26-year-old is going to listen to his dad. I can advise. I can't tell him to stop."
Why is this the right answer?
1. This is a choice for Austin and his doctor.
2. While there is evidence multiple concussions can and may be dangerous, there is a chance some people react differently and he could be safe once cleared to play.
3. It is not in the nature of Austin Collie to quit. His father cannot force him or corner him in a strong way, using his position. And if he tried, it would be Scott, not Austin, who could become the reason he ended his career after the years roll by. Scott needs to support, not control. It's a debatable subject with few easy answers.
Austin Collie has a right to earn his $1.03 million salary this season. He's living a lifetime dream to play in the NFL, and this is the cash-in part of his contract.
If his reaction to reporters' questions about his future is any indication, Collie is feisty and competitive enough to show he is frustrated over inquiries as to whether he plans to retire so soon, so early.
Yes, the concussions have come. And in light of lawsuits against the NFL by former players and dramatic news stories about the declining health and even death of athletes associated with brain trauma, this is serious stuff. He isn't in a good spot.
Wrote Kravitz: "They need to make a bold, brash statement, tell Collie and the NFL, 'We will not be party to the possible long-term decline of a player we care deeply about. He may play in another team's uniform; that's ultimately his decision — hopefully his informed decision. But we know what repeated concussions can do to a person, and we will not stand idly by as this terrific young guy mortgages his long–term future in pursuit of short-term gains.'"
Couched in a different way, the father was asked by Doyel if he wished Austin would retire.
"No, and I realize that borders on me being a poor dad — that I should be standing up and saying, 'Austin, you've got to stop.' I think by me not saying that, it could show ignorance on my part and not understanding the long-term possible effects that concussions could have. And again, the comments I make are ignorant, particularly where (former players) have issues later on in life. To think that's not going to happen to my son is ignorant as well."
Scott Collie then explained for every case of a player who has long-lasting effects of concussions, there are eight others that come away and still enjoy life.
Steve Young, for instance, had multiple concussions dating back to college and his NFL career. While the jury's still out if he'll experience serious depression, Parkinson's disease or lose his memory before he should, the guy is currently a vibrant, smart TV commentator who just hosted — and did very well — the birthday celebration of LDS President Thomas S. Monson.
While Scott Collie's answers could be criticized, it comes from a father who has been there as a professional football player in the CFL, a guy who had his body torn apart and sewn back together and understands fully the risks of playing the game.
I saw Scott Collie just over a week ago at a BYU practice where his youngest son Dylan is stepping into another phase of his career as a Cougar, just as his older brothers Austin and Zac did.
I've spoken to Scott over the years many times and he is a thoughtful, rational, devoted father. His wife is a successful personal trainer, a real professional. They understand the impact of concussions.
Maybe one more and Austin is done.
One thing we do know, Austin Collie is not going to quit football right now.
It's going to take more adversity than he faced Sunday with that Steeler hit for Collie to place his magic on the shelf and walk away.
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