VANCOUVER — In football, this much we know: One fan's "Cheap shot!" is another fan's "Chill out, it's a man's game."
One official's 15-yard penalty is another's ejection foul. One league's suspension is another's piddly fine. And all professional sports leagues' concussion protocols are like snowflakes: outwardly all the same, in truth all different, ephemeral, prone to disappearing under heat.
And all highly situational.
And so we watched Sunday's raft of football games, Canadian and American, saw the clearly defined helmet-to-helmet head shots on Calgary quarterback Drew Tate and Chicago's Jay Cutler, saw them both go down -- Tate kneeling, holding his head after Saskatchewan's Tearrius George cynically head-butted him; Cutler lucky his head was still attached to his body after Houston linebacker Tim Dobbins launched the top of his helmet into the quarterback's jaw at (almost literally) breakneck speed.
Tate and Cutler both stayed in the game, as (shamefully) did George and Dobbins, though the Chicago QB left at halftime.
If there was any "concussion protocol" administered on the sidelines immediately after Tate came off the field -- we have TSN sideline reporter Farhan Lalji's first-hand testimony to this -- it was evidently of the "How you feeling, sport?" variety.
To which Tate must have replied: "Fine. Leave me alone."
On the Calgary sidelines were Hall of Fame athletic therapist Pat Clayton and two former quarterbacks, head coach John Hufnagel and offensive co-ordinator Dave Dickenson, any of whom might have sounded the alarm. None did.
Monday, perhaps feeling the heat, the Stampeders released a statement saying all proper tests were administered by the club (if not at that precise moment) on the sidelines and at halftime and post-game, and that Tate had passed them all -- and quoted the quarterback as saying that he may have been a little too flippant with his "can't remember the first half" comments.
So I guess that's that, then. Tate played the full game, and said afterwards: "I just got my bell rung, that's all. I'm not concussed." He'll play in Sunday's Western final at BC Place, and the non-concussion will, with luck, be a non-issue.
Now, I'm not sure what TSN panelist and post-concussion syndrome sufferer Matt Dunigan would have said about this -- so urgently did the Canadian sports network have to cut away from the division semifinal to pick up a full hour of pre-game babble promoting a mid-season NFL telecast -- but I think we can guess.
He'd say "Bravo, Drew, way to show what you're made of!" Just as Sunday Night Football's Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels basically said that Cutler staying in the game after the horrific hit, and diving head-first into the next collision, showed that he was a real Chicago Bear. (Insert manly chest-bump here.) There must be something in the code of the West -- Dunigan, Tate, chronically concussed Winnipeg (and former B.C.) QB Buck Pierce and Dickenson, another victim of the endlessly ringing telephone -- that defaults to the old Dan Kepley injury bromide: "Mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter."
The thing is, we worry about these things. The athletes don't, or not very much, or only in the privacy of their own thoughts, away from the arena.
Lions quarterback Travis Lulay was concussed a couple of years ago in Toronto, in relief of Buck Pierce, who'd taken a head shot earlier and had to come out.
"I just knew when I got hit that something wasn't right," Lulay said Monday. "I'd look over at Jacques (offensive co-ordinator Chapdelaine) giving the offensive signals, and I just couldn't process them and I was feeling woozy. So I took a knee, and came out.
"I might have handled it differently if it had happened to me in college. But we know more about head injuries now, and we're smarter about it."
Well, some are. Some are seemingly okay with whistling past the graveyard. And in the final analysis, the risk of crippling injury is the price of admission to the brutal inner circle of pro football.
"You're never going to get true transparency with athletes," said the veteran B.C. Lions centre Angus Reid.
"No athlete's going to come off the field and go, 'This hurts, I'd better not play.' They're going to say, 'I'm fine.' And then the argument becomes, and the NFL is facing this now: at what point does the medical staff start digging deeper, beyond what they're being told?
"But that's what the average person never gets about pro sports. The average person calls in sick because they have the sniffles. The average athlete never comes out because something hurts. A guy's going to say, 'I'm good.' Maybe I'm not good, but I'm good enough to keep going, and that's what I do for a living, and I wanna go. There has to be some kind of communication and trust between the athlete (and trainer) ... but good luck finding too many athletes that go, 'I don't know. 50-50.' Well, 50-50 means they go."
If Tate lied to his own medical staff, where does that leave Clayton, or for that matter, Dickenson who, heaven knows, kidded himself often enough as a player? Then again, Tate's surfer-dude persona -- think Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High -- could make it a little tough to diagnose when he's in la-la land and when he's just being Drew.
"It's very tough for the average fan to get it, because political correctness aside, being a professional athlete isn't healthy for you," Reid said. "You're going to come out of it beaten down, mangled. And that's where I don't have a lot of sympathy sometimes with athletes who come out later and blame the league afterwards.
"I know what I'm getting myself into. I signed up for this. I get paid, I don't have to play. I can quit any time. If my head's not feeling right, I'm not going to play. Coach is forcing me? I quit. No one's holding me captive here. As athletes, these guys in this room choose to go: 'I'm going into a dangerous line of work here, and I'm going to pay for it.'
"As soon as I sign the contract, I accept it. I know what goes on in this sport. It's up to the athlete to say, 'My head's not right, I need to have it looked at.' The athlete has to take responsibility for his own career. If something's not right and he says, 'I don't care, I'm going back in,' and then says later, 'The medical staff should have known' ... sorry. You're a grown man."
Reid admits he has no experience with head injuries, as far as he knows.
"But I've shattered every bone in my foot in Saskatchewan, and I missed one play, and afterwards I had to put off surgery for four weeks because the swelling was so severe, and I nearly lost my career because the injury didn't heal," he said.
"Should the coach have said, 'He's not going back in?' Did I lie to them? Sure. I said I was going back in. I chose. I get paid. I wouldn't want to be in a world where every time something hurts, I get diagnosed and sat out. Don't play me if I'm not good enough, but don't tell me that it hurts too much. I'll tell you."
One man's folly is another man's heroism. Or something.
On Twitter: Twitter.com/rcamcole
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