The NFL finally learned its tough lessons about compassion, mental health and masculinity

On Saturday night, Patriots rookie cornerback Isiah Bolden was covering a diagonal pattern on Green Bay’s Malik Heath when teammate Calvin Manson’s knee hit his head as he focused on Heath for a tackle. Directly hit the department.

Bolden, a Jackson State graduate and one of Deion Sanders’ prize money transfers who began his career at Florida State, was unmoved. Undaunted, he froze at the vicious touch, his eyes closed.

Thankfully, Bolden was discharged from a Green Bay area hospital and was able to return to Foxboro with his teammates. The club then canceled a joint practice with the Tennessee Titans in preparation for Friday’s preseason finale. They’ve gathered their thoughts, are training at home, and plan to travel to Nashville on Thursday.

Bolden’s injury was terrifying, but we’ve seen it before. We are all soccer fans. I saw a player who had a concussion. I’ve seen players stagger back into the huddle, or hit his helmet backwards and injure his spine. Old-school Patriots fans will remember prospective receiver Daryl Stingley being speared by Jack Tatum of Oakland, ending his career and leaving him a quadriplegic.

That was in a preseason game 45 years ago. The game continued. There was very little sympathy. A few weeks later, I remember Tatum indifferently wishing Stingley a “quick recovery” on camera in what may have been the most disingenuous act in the history of professional sports. In Tatum’s eyes, they were both gladiators in a brutal match, and Stingley was just the unfortunate victim. just play.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was a 26-year-old special teams coach and defensive assistant for the Denver Broncos at the time of that tragic play. Belichick probably didn’t immediately remember Stingley lying motionless on the field at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday night, but the 23-year-old rookie suffered a serious head injury, leaving his players behind for the final time. I knew I wasn’t in the right state of mind to do 10 minutes. .

Belichick called for the game to be cancelled, but the final 10 minutes of the second pre-season match saw young upstarts vie for roster spots, practice squad opportunities and show their skills to other clubs. This is important given that

But given the potential for life-threatening injuries, like the cardiac arrest suffered by Buffalo’s Dumar Hamlin last season, even hard-headed old-school NFL aficionados are concerned about injury, mental health and And he admits that compassion is more important. than any game.

“I really appreciate what Coach Belichick did for me tonight,” said Special Teams ace Matthew Slater. “He took the lead on it. It affects a lot of players in a way, obviously our team is upset by this and I think the coaches have made the right decision as a player who has been playing for him for 16 years. It was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had.”

Finally, the NFL changed its rules to not only focus on player safety, but also to prevent injuries. It’s not the NFL of the ’80s and ’90s, when Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater lurked in the defensive backfield, attacking unsuspecting receivers and delivering jarring hits. Many of these were on those VHS tapes. A hard hit was celebrated. The game of football is a war, and whoever left the field with a concussion, a degenerated knee or a messed up hand was the one who survived to the end. They were hailed as heroes.

Those warriors were idolized and revered. But they also sacrificed the second half of their lives for this admiration. And let’s not forget that thousands of these “heroes” haven’t been able to create wealth for generations, because many NFL contracts aren’t fully guaranteed.

If the NFL isn’t going to fully guarantee a deal, all they can do is blend artistic beauty with engaging physicality to make the sport safer. And it’s okay for the league to openly show concern and sympathy for fallen heroes and seventh-round rookies who lay motionless trying to impress their positional coaches.

The sport never loses its ‘manliness’, its brilliance and its charm. Soccer is still a game only the brave can play. It is still the ultimate contact sport. But the NFL has also had to adapt and adapt to changing times. The world has become more aware, aware and respectful of mental health. “Swallow and be patient” is no longer wise advice.

So kudos to Belichick for his emotionless sympathy, for reading the psychology of his players and realizing it was time to stop, perhaps before another serious or horrific injury happened. Understood. Injuries are part of the game. In the NFL, concussions, ACL tears, triceps tears, and shoulder dislocations are not unheard of. Not without injuries.

But what the NFL is finally realizing is that these men, the warriors, will have a post-football life long after the spotlight has faded. There were still heroes like Stingley. He earned a degree from Purdue University, worked in player personnel for the Patriots, and even founded his own nonprofit in his hometown of Chicago.

Even if they lie motionless on the battlefield, they are still warriors, they are still human. They deserve our respect.

Gary Washburn is a columnist for The Globe Theater. He can be reached at up with him @GwashburnGlobe.

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