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Too many around Bears just don't get it

Smith and Urlacher are more problem than solution to NFL's dealing with concussions

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

8:12 PM CST, November 15, 2012

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Without hesitation or apology Thursday at Halas Hall, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher admitted again that he would lie about having a concussion to stay in a game.

The irony was you admired Urlacher's honesty. In the midst of Chicago's weeklong conversation about concussion awareness induced by Jay Cutler's head injury, it reinforced how far Commissioner Roger Goodell has to go. Contributing more to an endemic problem than its solution, Urlacher also criticized the quality of the NFL's newer helmets intended to cushion blows and made cut blocks sound like an even bigger issue confronting the league.

"Our knees are important to us too,'' Urlacher said, advocating the elimination of cut blocks. "A knee injury can put you out for a season. A concussion, you may miss a game or two. Huge difference.''

Maybe when 3,870 former NFL players are plaintiffs in 178 separate lawsuits related to the impact of cut blocks, I will agree with Urlacher that knee injuries threaten the sport as badly as brain injuries — but not yet. Those are the latest numbers involving concussion-related lawsuits, according to NFLconcussionlitigation.com. Not that Urlacher expressed much understanding or empathy for the cause to which one friend and former teammate Hunter Hillenmeyer has dedicated himself after concussions prematurely ended his career.

"Don't want to get concussed? Don't play,'' Urlacher said. "It's your career, it's your life. You have to make that decision on your own. Some guys have shut it down because of that. That's the value of after football, I guess. If I got concussed a lot, I probably wouldn't keep playing.''

Urlacher's candor came 24 hours after coach Lovie Smith showed a stunning disregard for the league's new reality. Asked repeatedly Wednesday about the growing concussion trend, Smith badly misspoke and only made clear that the NFL won't be taping his news conferences for any concussion-awareness videos.

"There were big collisions back then and we're talking about (concussions) a lot more,'' Smith said. "Once you get more evidence that things have really happened and guys were really affected by this — and we're not there — and I am definitely not there as a coach in charge of his football team.''

And we're not there? I doubt Dave Duerson's family agrees. Can't imagine Jim McMahon would either, assuming he could remember who Smith is. How much "more evidence'' does Smith or anybody need? Information is an ally the NFL's last generation didn't have. To ignore it isn't just foolish; these days it's potentially actionable.

It was as if Smith and Urlacher sought to prove what team President Ted Phillips stressed Sunday at Soldier Field during a pregame concussion-safety discussion when Phillips spoke of the challenge of "changing the culture.'' Little did Phillips know Cutler's concussion would reveal how deeply embedded his own team was in it.

Cutler missed practice Thursday and the Bears postponed their starting quarterback's weekly podium appearance until Friday, buying the team an extra day of observation. It was a smart move by the Bears, who were due for one after a practice week full of nonsense that Smith teams typically tune out before kickoff.

Before Smith and Urlacher inexplicably minimized the impact of concussions, Brandon Marshall tweeted a photo of himself in the locker room that inadvertently included the naked rear end of a teammate in the background. Urlacher told WMVP-AM 1000 Bears fans could "kiss my butt'' if they didn't like him congratulating Texans safety Danieal Manning after an interception. Tight end Kellen Davis whined about boos he deserved.

Most memorably, speak-first-ask-questions-later kicker Robbie Gould again raised eyebrows — and the ire — of team officials when he ripped the Chicago Park District's handling of Soldier Field so aggressively that Gould issued a formal apology. What Gould really should have apologized for was sounding like someone putting himself above the team in the middle of a winning season by threatening to sign elsewhere after his contract expires in 2013 unless field conditions improve.

Amid such off-the-field silliness, at least no Bears players were linked to Hope Solo.

Alas, one action by the Bears can render all the regrettable words of the past few days irrelevant — or more like inaction.

Sit Cutler against the 49ers.

The 2011 season fell apart for the Bears in game 10 because of a season-ending Cutler injury. Doing the right thing by holding out a young dad with a concussion history makes that less likely to happen in the 10th game of this season.

If Cutler were to rush back to face one of the NFL's fiercest defenses, even if an independent neurologist clears him, long-term pain and suffering lurks just one bad hit away. And I don't mean a cut block.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh