BRIAN WESTBROOK owes you nothing.
He owes nothing to this town, to these teammates, to the franchise that made him rich, because he made it significant.
Still, he should play. He owes that to himself.
Westbrook suffered two concussions in 20 days. He hasn't been hit since the second one, 31 days ago. There's a good chance his brain has healed, though, damningly, he said it hadn't healed after the first one.
Westbrook, perhaps the best running back in Eagles history, should come back, this week or next.
He should conduct a brief farewell tour. He should relieve flagging rookie LeSean McCoy. He should enjoy fresh legs late in a season that matters.
He should risk his health, if he wants, and make this run to the playoffs, and maybe deep into the playoffs, because, at this stage of his career - rich and lauded and beloved - winning a Super Bowl is what he plays for.
He can make a claim for the Hall of Fame, especially if his career is cut short by a concussion demon. He was, for a while, by far the best player on a consistently good team that played in a very tough division.
He has nothing to prove. Nobody who plays in the NFL after falling into Villanova's program needs to prove anything, and Westbrook's two Pro Bowls are a solid indictment of the blue-chip system of recruitment.
He doesn't need to prove to himself or to anyone else that he's tough enough to take a pounding. Clearly, he is not.
Westbrook has missed at least one game every season. He's only 30. Due to make almost $10 million in 2010, which could be a year without a salary cap, Westbrook is certain to be cut by the Eagles after this season. Given his injury history even before the concussions, he would, at best, be a low-money, 1-year risk elsewhere, adding insult to his injuries.
Make a run toward a title this season, then quit.
Quit before the knees and ankles never forgive you, and before the head swims in an agony of pain and confusion.
Successive concussions usually indicate a predisposition to further concussions. Even the NFL's conflicted experts would tell you that.
Dr. Lester Mayers, director of sports medicine at Pace University, would scream it at you.
Actually, Mayers doesn't scream, and he's no crusader. What he would do is sit you down and explain what he contended in his September 2008 minireview of recent concussion studies that appeared in the "Archives of Neurology," an AMA publication:
That any concussed athlete should sit for 4 to 6 weeks, not the usual 1 to 2 weeks.
Boy, Roger and the Goodellians didn't like that.
The report got the NFL so worked up that, in March, its team of experts rebutted his findings, questioning his very definitions, not to mention the validity of the independent studies Mayers cited - while admitting that their criteria were inexact. In their rebuttal, of course, they exclusively cited their own studies.
Ask him, and Mayers would explain it the way he explained it to two of the three multiply concussed Pace football players he counseled to quit the game. After consulting with Mayers' colleague, Boston concussion ace Dr. Robert Cantu, two of them did quit . . . not that they had Westbrook's considerations.
Mayers deals with amateurs, tomorrow's doctors and the lawyers who sue them. His are kids who play sports at a Division II school because it's in their blood, not because it's in their future.
Taking a month-and-a-half off at Pace with one concussion could bore you and tick off the coach. Taking 6 weeks off in the NFL could cost a player his future.
"I realize, if you're making seven figures," Mayers said, "you might not want to give that up."
Mayers, a former internal medicine and pulmonary specialist who became Pace's team doctor as a retirement self-reward, does not pretend to be a neuroscience expert. He is, however, mortified at the NFL's cavalier attitude toward concussions; at the number of players, such as DeSean Jackson, who return after missing just one game, or, such as Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who wanted to return Sunday and miss none.
Mayers cites studies that note altered performance in several areas - gait, balance, reactions, metabolic rates - for as many as 30 days after concussions, regardless of severity. Four weeks of healing, and, still, too often, not everything was quite right.
Well, it's been 4 weeks since Westbrook's second ding, and, come Sunday, it will be 5. He spent last week and weekend whipping himself back into shape, free of headache and nausea and, presumably, delighting the medical staff who address his progress only through imperfect mouthpiece Andy Reid, Westbrook's coach and general manager.
Besides, Westbrook has a helmet with extra padding . . . which, apparently, is like wearing a bulletproof vest made of Saran Wrap.
"It's abundantly clear, it's not the helmet that protects you," Mayers said. "I could produce a concussion in you if I simply held your head, moved it, then stopped it suddenly."
That's because, when the skull stops, the brain, sloshing around in a protective jelly, does not stop . . . until it hits the side of the skull. Then, it vibrates.
And there's no such thing as a head-on hit.
"The brain is rotating on itself, and still shaking," Mayers explained. "The shaking is what causes the concussion. It's tearing brain cells."
Mayers certainly doesn't want Westbrook tearing any more brain cells:
"If he was my son, I'd say, 'You were symptomatic for 4 weeks. I don't want you out in leftfield before I die. All it takes is one knee to the head, and you will never be the same.' "
You can't argue with that sort of logic, especially from a respected, published physician who has treated, and studied, 65 concussion victims in the past 11 years.
But you can take a chance.
Westbrook entered the NFL, the most brutal of professional sports, with the full knowledge that his next play - that his first play - could be his last. He played anyway, for love, and glory, and money, and the chance to wear a ring that commands more respect among most Americans than the pope's.
This is probably his last, best chance at that ring.
He should grab it.
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