By Jared Max
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Dr. Joseph Maroon scares me for two reasons.
1. He is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ neurosurgeon
2. He is a medical consultant to the NFL and the medical director of WWE
Responding to the news that 24-year-old linebacker Chris Borland retired from professional football to protect his health, Maroon made several statements to the NFL Network that reminded me of what top executives from the tobacco industry testified to Congress 22 years ago — that they did not believe cigarettes are addictive.
Dr. Maroon declared that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a “rare phenomena” that “although real, is being over-exaggerated and being extrapolated to youth football and to high school football.”
A rare phenomena? This comment strikes me as misleading and irresponsible.
CTE might not be prevalent among the general population, but within the pro football community it is most pressing. With all due respect, Doc, you sound like the medical experts in the early 1980s who tried to debunk the AIDS epidemic, saying it was confined to gay men and intravenous drug users. Does Maroon realize the fact that his job title — Steelers’ neurosurgeon — implies that there is a need for an NFL team to have its own neurosurgeon?
Exaggerated? Tell this to the families of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson. Mike Webster and Andre Waters. Tell Jovan Belcher’s family that CTE is exaggerated. Explain your definition of “exaggerated” to former Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel, who pleaded with Belcher to not take his own life — before he shot himself in the parking lot at Arrowhead Stadium. Share your take with the family of Kasandra Perkins, whose daughter was murdered by Belcher before he committed suicide. Tell Tony Dorsett, Jim McMahon, Mark Duper, Bernie Kosar and former Giants Leonard Johnson and Harry Carson that the current state of the their brains is a rare phenomena.
Maroon, like all doctors, is sworn to a Hippocratic Oath that, in part, states:
– “I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.”
– “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”
If your son suffered a head injury playing football, would you seek this doctor’s opinion?
Dr. Maroon tried to belittle a case against potential dangers of youth football by deflecting attention to other activities.
“There are … more injuries to kids falling off bikes, scooters, falling in playgrounds than there are in youth football,” he said.
Whether or not this statement is factually correct, it is not germaine to this argument. How many kids pursue careers in extreme sports, as opposed to football?
Comparing youth football to the NFL is like saying bumper cars are as dangerous as vehicles that travel our highways.
Of doctors who work with NFL teams, one from the Steelers is the last we should be hearing from about player safety. With concussion awareness at an all-time high, the Steelers showed us two months ago that they are as blasé about the health of their players as Maroon seems to be about the seriousness of CTE.
In a first-round playoff game, both Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller suffered crushing hits on consecutive fourth-quarter plays versus the Ravens. Each player left the field, but moments later was back playing. Just over three minutes after little birdies circled over Roethlisberger’s head on the frozen field, he returned to the game. On his first play, he threw an interception. Miller went back in, too. He caught a pass and then fumbled — his sixth fumble over 10 years.
CTE is exaggerated? CTE is a phenomena?
Dr. Maroon scares me, and I think he frightened the NFL, too. Jeff Miller, the league’s senior vice president of health and player safety, made sure to separate the league’s stance on concussions from this particular doctor. Miller told NBC Sports Radio, “Joe Maroon doesn’t speak for the NFL, nor we for him.”
If the Steelers’ neurosurgeon believes what he says, I must quote Bugs Bunny.
“What a maroon!”
Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.