Amidst stories of teams telling their injured players to dust it off and get back out there, it is refreshing to see instances in which a team genuinely puts player safety before the importance of winning a game. Three such examples have happened in recent years within the NFC North, and they all make me respect the men making decisions for those teams immensely.
Early in the 2011 season, Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins suffered a severe neck injury. Green Bay kept him on the roster for the entire season before deciding it was not safe for him to play football anymore. Collins retired shortly thereafter. General manager Ted Thompson said that “we were not comfortable clearing him to play again. As with all of our players, Nick is a member of our family and we thought of him that way as we came to this conclusion.”
Collins had been one of the leaders of a defense that played well in the team’s Super Bowl run, and the Packers clearly missed his presence on the field. Faced with an opportunity to clear him, helping their defense but exposing him to further serious injury, the team chose to put his well-being first, something football fans should take notice of and applaud.
The Detroit Lions faced a similar situation with running back Jahvid Best, who suffered a severe concussion (not his first) in October of 2011. The Lions, who had started 5-0 with Best’s explosive playmaking, stumbled to a 5-7 finish over their remaining 12 games.
Heading into the 2012 season, Best had still not been cleared by doctors, and Detroit likely at least suspected that he never would be, yet they still kept him on the roster, paying him his salary and providing him with free, top-notch medical care. After the season, it was announced that Best’s career was over. Once again, a team had a chance to try and get a valuable player back on the field at the risk of his long-term safety, but decided instead to listen to doctors and make player safety the main priority.
Just a few months later, Chicago Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox was bent over backwards and nearly paralyzed towards the end of the 2011 season.
Even though he could barely walk at the start of the next season, the team kept Knox on the roster, once again giving the player access to money (over $1 million) and top-notch medical care they were not obligated to provide. Despite Knox’s public insistence that he wanted to play again, Chicago cut him after the 2012 season, and he retired days later.
Setting the example
Three teams, three talented players in position of need, three franchises put their players’ health ahead of putting the best possible talent on the field. Their good example stands in stark contrast to the recent behavior of the Washington Redskins, who let a clearly hobbled Robert Griffin III play in the playoffs because he insisted he could do it. These teams trusted their medical professionals to make the call, even over the pleadings of their players, who were filled with passion for the game and a burning desire to win. For that they have earned my deep respect. Here’s hoping more teams follow their lead.