From a pure marketing stand point, no other American sports league does it better than the NFL. For decades, the public has been showered with images of tough, manly gladiators who represent the epitome of personal and physical strength.
The result has been a multi-billion dollar business that celebrates Sunday football games from September to January, as if they were some sort of weekly holiday. In this climate, the NFL looks like the perfect marriage of competition and violence. And the American public, always thirsting for both, is only too happy to pour obscene amounts of money into such entertainment.
Of course, the price to pay can be awfully large for these celebrated professional athletes. Forget about millions of dollars or the lavish praise of adoring fans. Long-term physical health is becoming a bigger concern for NFL players each year, and as we’ve already seen, the effects can be utterly devastating.
With that said, here’s hoping Wes Welker thinks long and hard about his next move. After suffering his third concussion in two years, Welker’s availability in the Denver Broncos‘ pass-happy offense has already become a point of debate mere hours after suffering another brain-blow against the Houston Texans on Saturday.
For Welker himself, the issues may start extending beyond the field of play. One concussion is bad. Two concussions is worse. Three? It might be enough to begin contemplating some things other than football.
According to Forbes, Welker’s concussion is at least the 59th such injury suffered by a player this preseason, an increase of almost 50 percent over the previous year. Just how many of those are repeat concussions is unknown. In Welker’s case, the warning bells should already be ringing in that regard.
Broncos coach John Fox has pledged that team doctors will follow established protocol in treating the five-time Pro Bowler. Even then, the shadow of Welker’s recurrent concussions figures to be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
It would be a shame for football fans if Welker’s career was cut short by injury. Since first entering the NFL in 2004, Welker has hauled in 841 passes for 9,358 yards and 48 touchdowns. His best season came in 2011 when he made 122 grabs for 1,569 yards with nine scores. Taking those numbers into account, there’s no doubt he’s been one of the best receivers of the current generation.
Nevertheless, Welker is beginning to show signs of a problem that won’t go away. He missed three games last season due to head trauma, and figures to be held out of the Broncos’ final preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 28.
From there, a possible return will depend on his recovery rate. Concussions are tricky and with Welker’s recent history in mind, it would be surprising if Denver didn’t proceed with caution. Gone are the days when a player simply gives a thumbs up and returns to the field after suffering a head injury.
To their credit, the NFL has stepped up efforts to limit concussions in recent years. Many fans and media personalities have rebelled, complaining that the sport is becoming too sanitized by the league’s new policies. Welker’s injury indicates that even with all their recent innovations, concussions are still a huge issue for the NFL.
It’s possible that Welker could return quickly. He came back after last season’s concussions to appear in 13 games and post 73 catches, 778 yards and a career-high 10 touchdowns. How another concussion ultimately affects both his career and his long-term health remains the question. There’s no doubt it’s a difficult call for any athlete, but it’s one that seems to be staring Welker in the face.