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Polamalu refuses to say whether he suffered a concussion

Steve Maneri,  Troy Polamalu

Kansas City Chiefs offensive tackle Steve Maneri (68) trips over Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. Polamalu left the game after his head banged into Maneri’s knee during the collision. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)


Congratulations, Steelers. Your use of a term other than “concussion” has officially given the condition the same stigma as herpes, HIV, and leprosy.

Why else would safety Troy Polamalu refuse to say on Friday whether he suffered a concussion five nights earlier against the Chiefs? Andrew Stockey of WTAE asked the question, and Polamalu took the fifth on whether he has sustained his eighth known concussion.

Regardless of the reason, it’s bizarre that a team and a player would be so defiant when it comes to acknowledging what anyone who has had fewer than 50 concussions realizes: Against the Chiefs, Troy Polamalu sustained a concussion.

The mere fact that he refused to answer the question confirms it.

Perhaps the Steelers have avoided the “C” word in order to keep a truly independent neurologist out of the team’s and the player’s business. Or maybe the goal is to subtly influence players to try to conceal their “concussion-like symptoms” whenever and wherever possible, as part of facing down the demons inherent to the sport.

“That’s the fear, I think, that any player faces, and that’s the fear that anybody, any individual faces -- overcoming any certain fears of being a coward, you know, or letting your teammates down or turning down a hit,” Polamalu said regarding whether he’s concerned about a hit to the head that could cause long-term damage. “That’s the beautiful thing about sports, is these fears are right in your face and it’s pretty obvious if you turn them down or not. I have the fear. No question about it. But I’m willing to fight it, for sure.”

I continue to believe that football players who are lucid and capable of making informed decisions should be permitted to assume all risks associated with playing football, even if they are still suffering from concussion-like (or concussion-actual) symptoms. For now, the issue is whether the Steelers will fully embrace and respect the league’s current rules, which contemplate a full tearing down of the wall that resides between “rubbing dirt on it” and acknowledging that serious, long-term damage could be done to a fairly vital organ.

Those rules entail encouraging players to be candid, not secretive, about the condition of their brains. Polamalu’s simple refusal to admit the obvious shows conclusively that, within the Steelers organization, there’s an implicit understanding that confronting the fear of serious injury includes shrugging off the blows to the head that don’t create serious problems in the short term.