I have a vivid memory of watching a movie with my family growing up. The name isn't important (although Wikipedia tells me that it's called Rise and Walk: The Dennis Byrd Story) but the content has stuck with me to this day. The movie tells the story of Dennis Byrd (as you might have guessed), the former New York Jets defensive lineman whose career was cut short by a catastrophic neck injury. He was partially paralyzed for a time, but he eventually regained the ability to walk.
Seeing the recreation of the hit that paralyzed Byrd (and later the actual video) has always made me squeamish about head and neck injuries. It was always in my mind when I played football, and every time I see a jarring hit on a football field, my thoughts flash to the excruciating surgeries and months of physical therapy it took to get Byrd back on his feet.
Byrd was extremely lucky. He could very well have been permanently paralyzed, and seeing the aftermath of his injury play out in that movie leads me to one conclusion:
I don't want Jermichael Finley to play football any more.
The Packers' tight end has been diagnosed with a bruised spinal cord and it's possible he could be back in four to six weeks, but the problem could reach deeper than that. Sports medicine specialist Dr. John Wilson with UW-Madison says the fact that Finley's spinal cord bruised at all is reason for concern. It (obviously) isn't supposed to happen, and the bruise means doctors will have to evaluate Finley's whole neck to see if there's an inherent problem with the neck that could result in further injury. What's more, he tells 620 WTMJ that about 56% of NFL players that bruise their spinal cords see a recurrence of a similar injury, although full quadriplegia tends to be rare.
Finley has already been concussed one time this year: a nasty hit against Cincinnati that sent him to the sideline for the remainder of the game and probably would have kept him out the following week if the Packers hadn't had a bye. Finley took to his personal website to address that hit, and he offered some interesting thoughts:
The most striking part of the video is when he talks about his son. His five year old told him point blank "Daddy, I don't want you to play football any more." Obviously, he doesn't want his dad to get hurt, and as a fan, I feel myself leaning more and more in that direction as well.
With one serious concussion under his belt and now a neck injury to boot, I truly believe it's best for Finley to stay on the sideline. Concussions can breed more concussions, and with what could be a lingering neck injury causing further risk, I'd rather see Jermichael Finley live the rest of his life as a husband and a father - and as a healthy former football player - than run the risk of seeing him paralyzed in the middle of the field again.
The risk may be low, but it's too big. The Packers will be around for a long time. Let's hope Jermichael Finley is, too.