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In light of Tuesday's New York Times' story about deceased former Iowa football player Tyler Sash's brain being diagnosed for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) by the Boston University School of Medicine, I'm reprinting the column I wrote about Sash and concussions.
I wrote it in February 2012, the day before then-rookie Sash's New York Giants defeated the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
INDIANAPOLIS — The Super Bowl, our unofficial national holiday, ultimately is built around physical freaks wearing helmets, padding, gloves and tape. It's as important for the gladiators to outhit as outwit.
Kill or be killed. Well, not literally. Or so we hope.
George Will once said football combines the two worst things about America, violence punctuated by committee meetings.
The American people, as the politicians Will usually writes about call us, seem to be good with the violence part of that formula. This game, especially at this level with the fastest, strongest, best football players on Earth, is three hours of car wrecks.
Maybe it's appropriate it's being played in the home city of the Indianapolis 500.
Here last week, I asked NBC's Bob Costas what he found the most and least admirable about the NFL. This was his response to the latter:
'To me, the single greatest negative of the league is you just can't escape the fact this isn't just a tough sport, it's a brutally violent sport. It's a frighteningly brutal game that puts its participants at severe risk.
'We're learning more and more about the aftereffects, dementia, the cognitive difficulties. Even if you don't experience those, most players have some sort of problems with hobbling around and having post-career difficulties.
'This game is just brutal, and too many of its participants and too many of its fans, in my view, don't just tolerate that brutality, they revel in it.'
This is nothing new, of course. Concussions have always been as much a part of football as goal-line stands and Gatorade showers. We're just hearing a lot more about them the last few years.
Which is good. But also unnerving.
Jeff Tarpinian, a rookie linebacker from Iowa with the AFC-champion New England Patriots, got his first start on Nov. 13 after primarily playing on special teams. He had four tackles in that game.
In the first days after that game, Tarpinian was held out of practice. The Patriots said he had an illness. On Nov. 24, he was placed on injured reserve, meaning his season was over. The reason listed: Head injury.
Late in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, the Niners' 281-pound Demarcus Dobbs blasted 215-pound Giants rookie Tyler Sash of Iowa on a Niners punt return. Sash was flipped in the air like a rag doll.
The hit totally blindsided Sash, but was within the rules. Some have called it a late hit, but that would have been a tough penalty to call. It occurred maybe a half-second after San Francisco punt-returner Kyle Williams had stepped out of bounds with the ball.
Earlier in the game, Sash gave a punishing hit to Williams that teammate Devin Thomas called a contributing factor in Williams' subsequent two lost fumbles that proved critical in the Giants' overtime win.
'He looked dazed when Sash hit him,' Thomas said. 'I feel like that made a difference and he coughed it up (later).'
It reportedly was in the Giants' scouting report that Williams had a history of concussions.
Sash was prone on the turf for a while after the hit he absorbed from Dobbs, but eventually got up and trotted off the field. He was held out of the Giants' first practice for the Super Bowl in New Jersey, but said that was just a precaution and insisted he's fine. He almost certainly will play today.
Sash also had a concussion when he was a Hawkeye.
'It doesn't really scare me,' he said here last Wednesday. 'I've seen my brother get concussions playing football when I was younger. I've seen my teammates get concussions. Some of my best friends in high school got concussions.
'It's just part of the game. I know they're trying to do everything that they can with the rules to protect players, but at the end of the day it's a bunch of grown men playing a game where it's legal to go hit people.
'I feel I've dished out a lot more than I've received.'
Sash didn't miss a game in his first NFL season.
'It's kind of ironic,' he said. 'I was talking to one of my buddies the Wednesday before the San Francisco game. I told him I hadn't really had a 'Welcome to the NFL' moment hit, then I got it on Sunday against San Francisco.
'Better late than never, I guess.'
Enjoy the chicken fingers and the guacamole dip today, folks. But please leave the football to the professionals.
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