Villanueva’s “Illness” Highlights Need For Further Concussion Transparency

I rarely immediately catch post-game comments from players. Head in my computer, writing or messing around on Twitter because I’m 22 and care about my computer far too much.

But I happened to look up just in time to see Alejandro Villanueva being interviewed by Bob Pompeani following the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 33-20 win.

A couple questions in and Pompeani acknowledged the elephant in the room: were you being checked for a concussion or feeling “ill,” as was reported?

Villanueva’s eyes darted to his left. He sheepishly replied, “Illness.”

But it was clear. It was always clear. He was being looked at for a concussion.

Foremost, I am elated that the NFL has reached the stage where a player is immediately checked for a concussion. Ten years ago and I guarantee you Villanueva never gets looked at. Never comes out of the game. Just keeps rolling. Back then, you weren’t concussed unless you were hit so violently you thought your name was Chief Wiggins.

The process has changed. Including the addition of “blue hat,” the unaffiliated neuro-trama consultant, or in fewer words, the concussion checker. Villanueva was cleared and I don’t doubt the evaluation. If there is any team that is willing to ensure their players sit when dealing with concussion symptoms, it’s Mike Tomlin and the Steelers. We saw it with Ryan Shazier. We saw it with Ben Roethlisberger.

No one on the field did anything wrong. But the way it’s being framed has me feeling uneasy. If Villanueva didn’t have a concussion and was just being checked for symptoms, why have it shrouded behind the “secrecy” of an illness? Does anyone really think he was sick? Had bad sushi before the game? Or that Ramon Foster doesn’t cover his nose when he sneezes?

If anything, I’m more “sick” than he was.

We all know what “illness” translates to. So why not just come out and say it?

All it does is maintain the stigma that the NFL is trying to dodge their concussion issue. We continue to dance around this matter-of-fact problem far too often. It gives the illusion that they’re trying to hide a player’s concussion. Again, I’m certain that is not the case here, but all that does is make me question the “illness” line in the first place. It casts doubt on the evaluation. And that should’t exist in 2015 when we know the most serious injury you can suffer is one to your brain.

Villanueva apparently isn’t allowed to say it, judging by his response to Pompeani. So I will. Someone thought he suffered a concussion. He was checked. He was cleared. He returned and everything is fine.

Was that so hard?

It reminds me that despite the many steps the league has taken to get better in its concussion awareness and reaction, they’re not quite there yet. They’re still treating it as this taboo word. One we don’t dare say. It’s a dishonest approach and isn’t sending the right message to their players. Be open, be honest, be upfront. Be transparent. That’s what Roethlisberger did. That’s what, in theory, all players should do.

And that’s what everyone in the NFL needs to do.

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