It's just one game, Jay: Shut it down

Forget about NFL's laughable concussion protocol; Bears QB needs to think about his future

The NFL's concussion protocol is laughable. It's a guessing game in which team trainers and doctors roll the dice on head injuries.

The coaches? They have their own agendas on game days. They are too involved in play scripts, third downs and red-zone situations to worry about the well-being of players or their head injuries.

"Is he up or down?" That's the question the coaches ask. A player takes a helmet under the chin and can't remember his name? They want to know if he can play, contribute and help the team win.

If not, get out of the way.

I know what the league's PR spin is trying to tell me about reducing the number of helmet-to-helmet hits and blows to the head on quarterbacks, but I don't see an answer here.

Nor does the league, to be honest.

The game itself is just too fast, too violent to expect concussions to vanish. They are here to stay. Players know it and fans know it. Every week someone goes down with a concussion and the game, well, it rolls on.

Take Jay Cutler. Back in the game for seven plays after taking a big shot to the head after he released the ball Sunday night in the loss to the Texans. We could all see he was messed up, dazed and not all there.

What did Jay do? He kept himself in the game. A warrior's mentality. Part of the job.

I get it. And I was no different when I played. We are all built that way as players. Take a shot? Shrug it off and stand back up. See stars or lose balance? It will pass, right?

And it usually does. We go on our way and continue to lead with the head on tackles, drop the shoulder on runs and take countless blows to a brain that already is scrambled, confused.

But looking back on the game after being removed from the league for six years, something has to give, right?

I remember taking a helmet shot on the goal line and the lights went out. I have no memory of the plays that followed when I was still in the game. The next week? Back out there playing safety and covering kicks.

What a joke, right?

I was dumb, immature and thought as a twenty-something year-old that football defined me as a person. Now? A much different perspective as a 36-year-old husband and father with three boys all under the age of 5.

Take my office at home. The shelves are lined with NFL helmets (the perk of traveling the league as a journeyman player). Different colors, logos and face masks. However, the warning labels on the back are all the same. Words like "paralysis" and "brain injury." Just a few quick reminders to brighten your day before you pull that lid on and jog onto the field.

And If I could give Jay some advice this week, it would be simple: Shut it down.

Back off, relax and let your brain heal. Don't play this week. Heck, don't even make the trip to San Francisco. Stay home, put your feet up and make sure you are ready for contact.

Forget the "concussion tests" he will go through this week. Those are ridiculous. Word memorization? Numbers? Puzzles? You can have that stuff.

It's time to think long-term. Cutler has made enough money to afford to do something fun with his son when he retires. There will be no real jobs for Cutler, only activities to occupy his time when he leaves the game. His production as a player has given him enough money to live on for lifetimes.

But to get there, to be an everyday father to his baby boy and avoid the pitfalls we have seen from various pro ball players with post-career concussion symptoms, he has to take a step back.

Sure, that game in San Francisco is big on Monday night. But it's still just a football game. Nothing more. And really, it's just another opportunity for a defense to target Cutler and put him down.

And one game won't define Cutler when he eventually turns in his gear and begins his real life after football.

Twitter @MattBowen41

Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. You also can find his work at nationalfootballpost.com.

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