When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract, nearly a quarter of which came in the form of a signing bonus, the front office seemed perfectly aware of the nature of his ankle surgery and is subsequent recovery time.
What they were evidently not aware of was the sort of issues that he was or could later have to deal with stemming from the number of head injuries that he has suffered over the course of his career. He was said to have suffered two concussions in a two-week span in September of last season, though he played for most of the season, and landed on injured reserve for his ankle.
Green’s agent has reportedly said that his ankle is healed enough to participate, but he remains sidelined because he is dealing with recurring headaches and is in the team’s concussion protocol.
I am going to leave aside the sports-related ramifications of what this might mean about Green’s future, both with the team and in the game in general, and where his signing bonus might stand depending on what sort of course of action persists in the near future, because it is, frankly, of lesser significance.
What we appear to be dealing with at the moment, at least with respect to the available data, is a player that is suffering lingering and prolonged side effects of concussions, months and months after the concussion or concussions occurred, unless there has been an undisclosed incident more recent, though that does not seem likely.
Whether or not Green has been experiencing these symptoms all throughout the course of this offseason, and what they might mean about his contract and the Steelers’ ability to recoup his signing bonus if he is forced to retire, is, in my mind, decidedly secondary to the fact that he is suffering these symptoms still and that the possibility exists that it could prevent him from returning to football.
While it may well be that this speculation over his ability to return to the game is unfounded, and that his current issue may clear up within a short period of time and take the practice field and all will be forgotten as though it never happened, I do not believe that the concern is unjustified when considering what it would mean.
It is one thing to see a career ended due to issues stemming from concussions—the league has been no stranger to that over the years—but we are only beginning to learn more and more the sort of impact that these brain injuries have on professional athletes later in life, far away from the football field.
Green’s concussion history had been documented before the Steelers signed him; it was certainly no secret. Perhaps, however, the extent to which he was still manifesting physical symptoms was not known, or their recurrence may be a more recent phenomenon. Either way, a very real concern for his well-being does and ought to exist, well ahead of what that might mean for the Steelers on the football field or in their bank accounts.