Flanked by the shining helmets of all 32 NFL teams, the head physician for the Cleveland Browns warned some of the league's rookies about the dangers of concealing head injuries and concussions.
"Don't try to hide it," Dr. Mark Schickendantz cautioned. "A little ding is not just a little ding."
As part of a four-day retreat designed to ease their transition from college athletes to paid professionals, NFC rookies attended a seminar on health and safety Monday hosted by Schickendantz, one of many speakers who will address the first-year players on a variety of topics during the league's rookie symposium, now in its 15th year.
Shickendantz touched on a number of health issues ranging from banned substances to heat and hydration during his Power Point presentation.
He spent a significant portion of his discussion dealing with concussions, a subject at the forefront of league matters the past two years. Shickendantz began by explaining that the players will have to undergo a preliminary base test during training camp, and he outlined the necessary steps they'll have to follow if they sustain a head injury.
Shickendantz emphasized the league was only interested in the players' well-being.
"Our only agenda is your health and safety," he said. "It's about you, not about us."
Dallas Cowboys rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne found the session informative and helpful. While most players don't consider head injuries on the field, Claiborne said any outside discussion on potential long-term effects of head injuries are sobering.
"You think about it when you're sitting in here," Claiborne said afterward outside one of the conference rooms at The Bertram Hotel. "Being a football player, once you're on the field, you don't think about getting concussions or stuff like that. It's very important.
"It could be the difference between life or death. If you feel symptoms or those kind of things, you need to tell someone."
The issue of players hiding their symptoms from trainers and team doctors has been one of the league's major obstacles in trying to improve safety and minimize health risks.
In a series of interviews about head injuries with The Associated Press in December, 23 of 44 NFL players — slightly more than half — said they would try to conceal a possible concussion rather than pull themselves out of a game.
Claiborne said he's never been faced with the dilemma of whether to cover up an injury. But he won't take any chances if he's ever confronted in the future.
"I really haven't been in that situation," said Claiborne, who has a 2-year-old son. "I know if I ever were, I would let someone know. You want to play and you want to get back in there, but if you get in there and you take another hit you might never play again. It's important to let someone know and check you out."
NFC rookies began their orientation program on Sunday, and before they're dismissed on Wednesday following a trip to the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame, the players will listen to speakers address subjects in panels entitled "Athletes for Hope: Professional and Social Responsibility," ‘‘Are You Bigger Than The Game?" and "How To Be A Professional."
Among the scheduled speakers are Michael Vick, Adam "Pacman" Jones and Michael Irvin, all of whom experienced off-field troubles. Some of the other former players to share their experiences are Carl Eller, LaVar Arrington and Antonio Freeman, who is also facilitating discussion among the rookies.
"We want to find out what they want to get out of this symposium, what they want to get out of the game," said Freeman, a wide receiver for eight seasons with Green Bay. "I shared my goals with them, some of my accomplishments, some of my trials and tribulations to get here, some of my struggles as a rookie. We're here to help them."
Freeman has been impressed with the attitude of the league's newest players.
"They are very engaged," he said. "They're excited. They're nervous, which is expected, but the excitement overtakes the nervousness. We're just trying to get these guys to understand that we're not telling you what not to do. We're just trying to tell you the things that we did that made us successful. We don't want to lose the kids by saying, ‘Don't, don't, don't, don't.' You lose so many kids with that message."
The AFC picks are now attending they symposium, from Wednesday through Saturday.
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