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Steelers players say protocols protect them from themselves

Chris Adamski
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photo credit Melinda Sue Gordon
Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
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photo credit Melinda Sue Gordon
Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion' starring Will Smith.
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photo credit Melinda Sue Gordon
Alec Baldwin , left, and Will Smith star in Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
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Melinda Sue Gordon
Director Peter Landesman, left, and Will Smith on set of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
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photo credit Melinda Sue Gordon
Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Will Smith star in Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
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Sony Pictures
Poster for the movie 'Concussion'
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Will Smith stars in Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
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photo credit Melinda Sue Gordon
From left: Will Smith, the real Bennet Omalu and director Peter Landesman on the set of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion.'
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Getty Images
Will Smith and journalist Jeanne Marie Laskas attend a premiere of 'Concussion' in November in Hollywood.
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Dr. Bennet Omalu (left) and actor Will Smith attend Columbia Pictures screening of 'Concussion' at Regency Village Theatre on Nov. 23, 2015, in Westwood, Calif.

Days after sustaining a concussion while playing in a game, Steelers cornerback William Gay said, if it were up to him, there would be no doubt about his status for the upcoming week.

“If you leave it up to us, there’s never nothing wrong with us,” said Gay, a Steelers co-captain. “Unless we can’t walk.”

After decades of essentially leaving it up to the players, the NFL’s concussion protocol established in 2013 has made players feel safer, several Steelers say. And it made them feel safer because they needed to be protected from themselves.

“Guys are so competitive; even just to make it (to the NFL), you have to be extremely competitive,” said receiver Markus Wheaton. “And that can be bad at times because … even when you do get to know everything about (brain injuries) and you know all the details (of your own injury) and what can happen, you still just want to play. You don’t want to let your team and let your coaches down and let yourself down.

“So it’s tough. But it’s good that we’re being taken care of.”

For Gay, that meant having symptoms monitored and taking baseline cognitive testing during the week leading up to the Cincinnati Bengals game. He was cleared to play in that game.

One week prior, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker Ryan Shazier were in league-mandated protocol following concussions sustained against the Seattle Seahawks. Safeties Mike Mitchell and Will Allen and backup quarterback Landry Jones also spent time this season in the protocol.

Only Jones was not cleared to play in the following week’s game.

“I thought they did a good job with me,” Jones said of the Steelers’ medical staff, which includes head trainer John Norwig and physicians Dr. Joseph Maroon, Dr. James Bradley and Dr. Tony Yates.

“They explained to me, ‘You’ve got a concussion; this is what kind of concussion you had. Whenever you don’t have any more symptoms and whenever you pass the baseline test, you’re good to go.’ So to me, it was fairly simple when I went through it.

“I thought it was good — the decision to come back to play wasn’t in my hands. It was whenever I got cleared by the doctors.”

Lineman Ramon Foster, the Steelers’ elected union representative, said that in recent years, player concussion/brain safety is “something that’s been taken the forefront” among the NFL and the NFL Players Association.

Foster lauded Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for limiting padded (full-contact) practice time during the season, and Maroon and Norwig for “doing a great job policing us.”

“I feel like here in Pittsburgh, we have handled it in a really good way,” Foster said. “I can’t speak on what other teams have done so far, (but) as a union, it’s something that’s been (emphasized), because there’s a lot of players that have been affected by it.”

Whereas in the past, players might have been pressured to “play through” a headache or “getting your bell rung,” now players take comfort in knowing they won’t be cheated — and they can’t cheat themselves.

“There is no getting around it,” said fullback Will Johnson of concussion protocol.

“I have trust in their concussion protocol and that they are going to make sure that I am completely safe before they let me go out and participate. I’ve always felt comfortable. I know it is a hot topic of conversation right now, but I have never had a problem.”

Staff writer Ralph N. Paulk contributed. Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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