The arms are the first thing we notice. When NFL players are concussed and prone on the field, sometimes an arm remains upright, frozen in suspended animation as if attached to a string.
In the case of Washington tight end Niles Paul, we noticed his helmet pop off in Week 8, after a goal-line collision with Dallas linebacker Sean Lee. Paul was down for several minutes and didn’t return to the game. On Wednesday, after missing the Seattle contest, he returned to practice for the first time.
“I don’t remember anything,” Paul told The Washington Post. “I don’t remember walking off the field. I barely remember walking out of the stadium. I’ve never been concussed like that, so it was a bit scary for me.”
He said he stayed home during the team’s trip to Seattle, with the intention to relax and “let my brain settle down.”
But we wonder how successful such respites might be, especially considering Thursday’s news about another tight end.
The New York Times headline read, “On the Table, the Brain Appeared Normal.” It was atop a brilliant, unsettling story that mentioned neither Aaron Hernandez nor his line of work by name. Instead, the focus was on neuropathologists’ findings upon examining the 27-year-old former Patriots’ star who hung himself in prison.
“He had beautiful pathology, if you can call it beautiful,” Dr. Ann McKee said when Hernandez was found to have the most severe case of CTE ever discovered in someone so young. She said the degree of brain damage he suffered is usually seen in someone 20 years older.
For the most part, NFL players don’t pause in the split-second before putting their bodies and brains at risk. It’s part of the game and there’s no room for hesitancy. Paul, a converted wide receiver who lined up at fullback on the play in question, willingly engaged Lee in the hole. It wouldn’t have mattered if the opponent was twice as large.
“I ain’t no [expletive],” Paul told the Post. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care if it was [Eagles defensive tackle] Fletcher Cox coming in full speed. I’m gonna try and take the hit, especially if it gives my boy the score. That’s just the type of player I am, and I just want that to be known …”
But it’s the unknown that scares us, the possibility of widespread and lasting damage on a given snap or their cumulative effect.
Paul said the aftermath was scary, but he doesn’t remember much about the play.
Indeed, the sight of concussed football players is alarming.
And we can’t forget the price they pay for our entertainment.