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Players go too far if they target others who've had concussions

By Coy Wire, Special to CNN
updated 11:58 AM EST, Fri January 27, 2012
Kyle Williams fumbles during the NFC championship Sunday. Two Giants say they targeted him because he's had concussions.
Kyle Williams fumbles during the NFC championship Sunday. Two Giants say they targeted him because he's had concussions.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NFL veteran says Giants players wrong if they targeted a 49er who has had concussions
  • Coy Wire: I know from my playing days that opponents often target an injured player
  • Wire: With all we know about how hits affect the brain, player behavior needs to change

Editor's note: Coy Wire, a nine-year NFL veteran, is a trainer and motivational speaker. For more about the traumatic effects that football can have on players, watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's documentary "Big Hits, Broken Dreams," Sunday at 8 and 11 p.m. ET.

(CNN) -- Giants players Jacquian Williams and Devin Thomas made sportsmanship a prime topic for discussion when they said after their NFC championship win against the 49ers that they targeted punt returner Kyle Williams, who has suffered four concussions.

Jacquian Williams said of Kyle Williams during a locker room interview: "We knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, to take him out of the game."

Thomas told the Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, that Kyle Williams was a target because "he's had a lot of concussions. We were just like, 'We gotta put a hit on that guy.' ... "

The significance of these comments is compounded by the fact that concussions, and the health and safety issues related to them, have become a main concern of the National Football League and its players. Former players are suing the NFL over concussion issues and will appear in court this week. Major rule changes and an elaborate fine system have been implemented to protect players. Former players suffer psychologically and neurologically, and we now know it's because of concussions and subconcussive blows to the head.

Coy Wire
Coy Wire

Boast of targeting punt returner raises questions about concussions

Unfortunately, the words of these two young men aren't the first examples of dishonorable behavior and the ignoble mentality that exist in sports, nor will they be the last. It's time, however, for everyone to realize how dysfunctional and unnecessary this type of behavior is.

I know all too well that there are some contemptible and devious minds who intend to "take players out." In my nine-year NFL career, knees were cut, elbows were thrown, helmets were used as missiles, ankles were twisted, and I was even bitten! All of these acts were instigated by an insatiable desire to taste victory, even if it meant disabling the opposition to do so. During the weekly scouting report, there was always a special presentation about which players on the opposing team had injuries. The message was obvious.

We knew exactly who was hurting and where. If an ankle was injured, we knew which one. If it was a rib, we knew which side of the body it was on. "Take him out of the game." That was the MO. Sad, I know, but in the sports world, c'est la vie.

Some say football is a violent game and all the rule changes to protect players are making the game soft. They say go play a different sport if you can't take the big hits. I say to all the uneducated players, wannabe players, couch potatoes and pundits in suits chirping from cozy air-conditioned rooms, many of whom have never played the game: This doesn't affect you. Your long-term health isn't at risk, nor will your kids risk losing you prematurely to a death caused by a psychological and neurological disorder acquired from repetitive head trauma.

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Do you want to hear something that is really scary? According to the NFL Players Association, the average life expectancy of an NFL player is 58 years. That is considerably lower then the 76-year life expectancy of the average American. Knowing this, should we not attempt to play the game fairly and with respect for our fellow man?

Four-time Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson committed suicide last February. He killed himself with a gunshot to the chest instead of the head, presumably so that his brain could be examined by Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. The New York Times reported that Duerson also sent text messages to family members asking "that his brain be examined for chronic traumatic encephalopathy," a condition linked to more than a dozen deceased NFL players.

Researchers said his brain had developed the same trauma-induced disease recently found in other deceased players. The number of retired NFL players found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy is growing. Duerson, who complained to his family of his deteriorating mental state during his final months, is the first to act upon his suspicion of having the disease.

So, was it wrong for the Giants players to target a man's head when they knew he had already suffered four documented concussions? I'd say yes. Those who display this type of behavior and intent must be reprimanded and punished. Players in the NFL are now fined for helmet-to-helmet contact, so it makes sense that targeting someone who has suffered four concussions and having the intent to "take him out of the game" would be fineable, also.

In sports, or business, people always look for a competitive edge. Whether that edge is physical, mental or psychological, the great ones always seek it. It's what separates the mighty from the mundane. It's why some people get up early to put in work while others continue to sleep. It's why some people stay in the gym, at the office, or study for an exam while everyone else goes home.

There is such a thing, however, as taking it too far. When getting the upper hand causes another person bodily harm, it has gone too far. Not only are you threatening someone's livelihood, you're threatening their long-term health, their life. Even though the rules may not be written yet, they should be understood.

I hope that Jacquian Williams and Devin Thomas were just carried away by the moment. My hope is that they now realize that the extent and potential outcomes of their intentions are frightening. They have tremendous talent and opportunity, and there is no reason for them to harm others on their journey to success. I wish them nothing but the best. Those two men, and all of us, are more powerful than we know.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Coy Wire.

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