We had another  harrowing reminder on Sunday about just how dangerous football can be.  The brutal but clean hit that Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie took against Jacksonville should be examined by all of us.

Football is dangerously tough.   But watching what happened to Austin Collie made it very clear what’s at stake for the many men and boys who play our favorite sport.

Collie was attempting to catch a Peyton Manning pass over the middle.  He got hit at the top of the shoulder pads by one Jaguar, and below the waist by another.  During the tackle Collie’s neck was violently wrenched up and to the side.  The hit was dangerous and vicious – but technically it was perfectly legal.

Afterward, all you could see was Austin Collie motionless on the field.

The crowd went silent, the same can be said I’m sure for the folks watching at home.   He didn’t move for a long time.  The worst thoughts went through my mind.

And even later when Collie actually got up and gingerly walked back to the sideline, my feeling was and is: he should never play again.

Ironically Collie was having a great game.  Two touchdowns – just like he was never away, this was Collie’s heroic comeback after missing three games because of concussions.  So to see him stretched out and motionless once again was haunting.

Austin Collie has now suffered his third concussion of the season. His story is a cautionary tale of what happens all too often in the high-speed, super-collision world of professional football.

Yes, Austin Collie may have played his last game, but he probably sacrificed his health long before Sunday’s big hit.  It’s also possible he will try to play again and will be allowed to do so.  There are no easy answers here.

The extent of the damage to Collie’s head may never be completely known.  And therein lies the unsettling paradox.  Serious testing of NFL athletes for head injuries is only in its infancy, and unfortunately, the facts and the remedies remain in dispute.

So who is to blame if Austin Collie continues to play and is again seriously injured?   The Colts?  The team desperately needs his pass-catching skills to make a run through the playoffs.  Collie?  I’m sure he is wondering right now if his career is over.  No player in his prime wants to stop playing if he thinks he still can.  Once his head clears, Collie, like most players, will probably feel like he has a lot to prove – he just turned 25 years old.

What about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell?  Is he thinking about Austin Collie?  Goodell certainly talks loudly about head injuries.  Here is the one case the commissioner should monitor with a high-tech microscope, and hold it up for all to see.

There are other issues: like, who will make certain that Austin Collie is fully-insured and properly compensated for the rest of his life, even if he manages to continue playing and especially if he doesn’t?   Long-term health care and insurance coverage has been a major issue among former players who say the league and the union have not seriously addressed this issue, leaving many of them to suffer needlessly.

What we do know is that Austin Collie has had three concussions in seven weeks.  Is that too many?  Can a man withstand consecutive serious blows to the head and expect to talk or think straight years later?  I’m just asking.

That’s the dilemma, but do we care as fans?  Or do we just want our guy back out on the field?   Wherever you are on this, do know that this isn’t about just Austin Collie or the pros, but also college, high school, and Pop Warner level football players.

Damage to the head on the football field can happen at a very young age.  It is happening every week somewhere.

So let’s watch closely how Austin Collie’s head injury is managed by all parties.  Let’s also listen to what Collie says, what the Colts say, and more importantly let’s pay particular attention to what commissioner Roger Goodell says and does.  Then ask yourself how you feel.

This is put up or shut up time for all of us on this issue.

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  1. [...] years ago, Collie incurred multiple concussions during games that season capped off by a horrendous hit to the head in a December game against Jacksonville that should have ended any thoughts of him ever [...]