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COMMENTARY: The NFL And ESPN Continue To Remain Hypocritical Towards Football’s Concussion Problem

Robert Alvarez
Robert Alvarez on Twitter
6 years ago at 9:44 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots News

COMMENTARY: The NFL And ESPN Continue To Remain Hypocritical Towards Football’s Concussion ProblemMatthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, ESPN investigative reporter and “Outside The Lines” host Bob Ley made headlines for his stance on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s refusal to discuss the potential concussions he may have played with during the 2016 NFL season.

Before we get deeper into this story, let’s get a quick backstory refresher. In case you forgot, Brady’s wife Gisele Bunchen went on “CBS Good Morning” back in May and was asked by host Charlie Rose “Are you trying to get him [Brady] to retire?” to which Bunchden replied with following comments;

“As you know, it’s not the most, like– let’s say ‘unaggressive’ sport. Right?” Bündchen said. “Football, like, he had a concussion last year. I mean, he has concussions pretty much every — I mean, we don’t talk about — but he does have concussions.”

It was a stunning revelation that took the sports world by storm. Is Tom Brady lying on injury reports? Did Gisele just rat her husband out? The headlines and comments exploded online and on talking head tv shows.

In the days that followed her interview, clarifications on Gisele’s comments began to emerge along with the fact that Brady was never officially listed on any injury report during the 2016 season with such a problem. Brady’s agent Don Yee defended the reports saying “Tom was not diagnosed with a concussion last year…Many of the protocols and safeguards still are evolving, and it’s obviously a good thing the organization and everyone close to him is vigilant and always looking out for his health.”

Yee’s comments along with an NFL’s official statement by PR man Brian McCarthy appeared to close the case once and for all.

“We have reviewed all reports relating to Tom Brady from the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultants and certified athletic trainer spotters who worked at Patriots’ home and away 2016 season games as well as club injury reports that were sent to the league office.

There are no records that indicate that Mr. Brady suffered a head injury or concussion, or exhibited or complained of concussion symptoms. Today we have been in contact with the NFLPA and will work together to gather more information from the club’s medical staff and Mr. Brady. The health and safety of our players is our foremost priority and we want to ensure that all our players have and continue to receive the best care possible”

A few months went by without issue, but on Friday, Boston Globe reporter Ben Volin revived the story again after speaking with an NFL league office spokesperson to which it was discovered they were in fact still investigating despite what was originally said back in May.

That same day, at the same press conference, when reporters were presented with their first opportunity to address Brady about the possibility of playing with a concussion last year, the quarterback shut down the topic following a question from ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss on whether or not his wife’s claims were indeed accurate.

It was that interview that set off ESPN’s Bob Ley on Sunday, firing back at Brady saying with the commentary below.

So here we are on the doorstep of a new season, now two full years since Deflategate rocked Patriots Nation to the point of major division and mistrust  towards a sports media network that openly reported incorrect information,  brought on tearful TV analysts to talk about it, then wrote silly troll stories, only to apologize for one of those errors late in the night, and now Patriots fans find themselves yet again in a state of uproar towards ESPN, but this time at a claim somebody there is supposedly looking out for Brady’s health?

First of all to begin, in fairness to Ley the NFL Concussion protocol remains deeply flawed, especially when rookies have the stones to “joke” about the problem by saying that the field is “the perfect place to die” right in front of the Commissioner, and then of course players unexpectedly retiring from the game at much earlier ages in recent off seasons while citing the desire to be healthy beyond football to accomplish other things.

So just where is Ley wrong? Well let’s dissect this video piece by piece.

Right of the bat, Ley starts off his commentary by “joking” at the fact Brady’s media availability is “about as frequent as a solar eclipse.”  Okay, so although that has no relevance to concussions, Ley plays the “he hates the media” card early.  Already there might be some perceived media biases and we haven’t even heard his opinion yet.

From there Ley transitions into the backstory stated above and this is where things start to go off the rails.

“The Hell it isn’t Tom!”“A suddenly emotional Ley proclaims in response to Brady’s “it’s none of your business” answer.

While “it’s none of your business” is explained like it was a brief, abrupt answer, in reality Ley completely skipped out on the full context of Brady’s answer to Reiss, which was actually far more detailed in these words below.

“I don’t want to get into things that happened in my past, certainly medical history and so forth. I really don’t think that’s anybody’s business,” Brady said after the team’s practice at Gillette Stadium. “What happened last year; I’m focused on this year and improving and working on things I need to get better at. “So that’s how I approach everything. I’m not sitting here worried about last year or five years ago. There are other people that do worry about that — my wife, or my parents, or my sisters, people that love me and care about me. But I do the best I can do to be prepared to play — mentally and physically — and I give the game everything I can.  

So while Brady said “it’s none of your business” he at the same time made it explicitly clear to Reiss that it was personal matters that should remain private and he was within his rights to say so, but Ley conveniently leaves that out. We’ll get to why that’s important further down.

Reiss also noted in his story that Brady was then asked whether or not he pays attention to news and studies about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

“You’re not blind to it as a player. That’s why I believe in so much of being proactive with your health,” Brady said. “I think when you’re a player, and you see other players before you that did things a certain way and what’s transpired with their health or well-being, and then you learn from it. I think that’s the things I’ve really tried to incorporate in my own life.

“So I’m confident in what I do. I’m confident in the things I do and the ways I train, you know. But it’s a contact sport, and I think we all understand that. There are a lot of great benefits that football brings you, [but] certainly you can be put in harm’s way. So you just do the best you can do as a player, and obviously it’s great that there is more awareness for those types of things. That’s been a very important topic, certainly. But you just try to be proactive and take care of your body the best way you can.”

There is Brady again, acknowledging his awareness towards the NFL’s health concerns, Ley again curiously makes no mention to this quote in his commentary.

Ley instead moves on into detail (albeit brief) about the “enhanced NFL protocol’s now in place” but instead of stating just what these new regulations have actually done for the sport and how they are enforced, he transitions to “hot take” for the ages instead stating “that the leagues greatest ever quarterback, may have had concussions despite never being listed on the injury report? That is news.”

News? Since when did “may” become news? Oh right it get your attention, moving on.

(Somewhere Ted Wells must be throbbing over yet another “more probable than not” report that Tom Brady was “generally aware” of lying about injuries because the truth here Mr. Ley there is ZERO concrete evidence or facts that Brady did any such thing to support these claims.)

Ley then concludes his thoughts by citing Commissioner Roger Goodell’s response to the recent CTE case series by Boston University, bypassing Brady’s CTE awareness quote and concluding with a rather personal “warning” for Brady in the next phase of his life beyond football.

“Tom Brady just turned 40. He says this is all none of our business. And Tom, I sincerely and honestly hope you can say that as you celebrate many birthdays in the years ahead.”

So here’s my “take on the take”. With all due respect Mr. Ley, who are you to question whether or not a man is taking care of himself properly, and then having the audacity to take it to such a personal level with your emotions, diverting attention away from the facts? These emotions were very much noticeable throughout the commentary and since Ley ignores the context of Brady’s responses to Reiss, he instead pawns it off like Brady has been playing his whole career ignorant to the concussion problem.

Which as the above quotes showed, was not the truth.

From an ESPN standpoint,  Ley’s commentary, provided to myself yet another example of the networks shift from “sticking to sports” to a far more political viewpoint/feel that gave me the perception Bob Ley acted more with a sense of entitlement to know Brady’s personal medical records, and masked it by making it seem like he was doing us all a service or “helping” the problem rather than violate Brady’s personal privacy.

We may never know the true motivations behind why Ley and E:60 chose to discuss the topic in the manner they did. Whether it was for ratings, wanting to help him, or make an example of Brady for “First Take” debates, my criticism of this commentary remains rooted at how Ley manipulated interview responses to fit his apparent feelings rather than provide the full quotes Reiss provided him.

It also cant go unsaid that the premise of such a controversial “Brady hiding concussions” story probably shouldn’t be conducted by the folks in Bristol at this given time seeing as they ironically enough only just settled a HIPAA violation lawsuit with Jason Pierre Paul earlier this year. How could we possibly forget this tweet?  For those unfamiliar, the HIPAA Privacy Rule establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information, and that does also apply to professional athletes. So no Bob, you still aren’t above this.  

Brady’s brother-in-law, former Major League Baseball player Kevin Youkilis, voiced similar displeasure with Ley in a series of tweets that voiced his frustration at what he also felt was a violation of privacy. Although not words from Brady himself, Youk provided the family’s current standing on the issue.

In the end, has Brady taken enough hits over the years to have had concussions or even mild symptoms? Of course he has.

But does he deserve to be punished and put in time out by Bob Ley just because he trusted himself and his body enough to continue playing and didn’t the NFL? If Ley actually shared Brady’s full quotes, its almost entirely possible Brady knows the CTE issues better than both Ley and the league. While we in the media are always seeking to get the best scoops and stories, there is still a fine line of journalistic integrity (there’s that word again) that should never be crossed. Violating medical privacy is one of those. Ley suggesting that Brady release his medical records is unfair to both Tom and his family. While Brady may have sacrificed a lot of privacy in his celebrity status, I don’t think any one of us would willingly share such personal information with the world. Brady has already taken the fall once for a league dealing with dysfunction, he certainly shouldn’t again.

Here’s an idea, let’s actually use Deflategate as a learning tool for a second, and let’s NOT spend more time and money digging into the past to PROVE “concussion protocol evaders,” the NFL already screwed that up, its too late now. Lets NOT go out of the way (again) to punish Brady and other players who “may” have hid injuries in the past. Admit it ESPN and NFL, you have nothing, just like you had nothing on ball deflation. Any investigation into the past by ESPN or the NFL now is both counter-productive and irresponsible. Bob Ley needs to hold himself accountable, apologize, and realize his hopes for medical records is going too far to be a feasible solution.

Instead, let’s continue to IMPROVE the future concussion protocol system. Commissioner Goodell and the rest of 345 Park Ave needs to actually take the time to start LISTENING to the doctors, researchers, and especially former players struggling with the symptoms of CTE and stop being “unaware” of everything. Read your twitter mentions sometime NFL Commish.

I know that is a lot to ask for. I realize the fixing the Pro Bowl has been more important of late, but if we don’t start listening to the truth, football as we know it may one day never exist again, and that IS OUR business.

Posted Under: Patriots News
Tags: Bob Ley Tom Brady

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