Is Jamal Adams really the bad guy? While We’re Waiting

Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

First of all, I wanted to thank Jim Pete for filling in for me last Tuesday. I was on vacation last last week when my phone started blowing up with news that Kyrie Irving had asked for a trade out of Cleveland. So, thanks to Kyrie for ruining my vacation as well. I could probably keep talking about Kyrie, but the rest of the WFNY crew did such a great job covering it last week that I don’t feel I really have anything new to add. It’s just painful to me as a Kyrie fan that he wants out like this. As a Cavs fan who thinks Kyrie is a really great basketball player in spite of his defensive shortcomings, this sucks. The fact that the guy who hit the biggest shot in team history is forever going to have “this” hanging over him and the fans really irritates me.

But it’s officially August today, and August is no time to talk about basketball. It’s officially football time! The NFL preseason kicks off in just two days with the Hall of Fame game in Canton. The Browns get started a week later in the preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. And if you’re a college football fan (and a fan of The Ohio State Buckeyes), OSU kicks off their season on Thursday, August 31 against the Indiana Hoosiers.

With football on the mind, I wanted to talk just a little bit this morning about the comments New York Jets rookie safety Jamal Adams made on Monday. At a fan event, Adams was sitting next to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when Goodell was asked a question about player safety. Specifically, he was talking about the link between degenerative brain disease and football. Goodell was talking about some of the rule changes the league has passed and is trying to pass in order to supposedly keep players safer.

Adams had a different point of view. When he started shaking his head, Adams was asked about it and this was his response:

The money quote here, obviously, is “Literally, if I had a perfect place to die, I would die on the field.” He added “I would be at peace. Literally, I would be at peace. And that’s not a lie.” He would then talk about his passion for the game and the beauty of a bunch of teammates coming together, sacrificing for each other on the field, and trying to win football games. It was actually a very passionate and honest response and you could feel his love for the game.

But that quote was quickly zipped around the internet and there was plenty of reaction, including from Martellus Bennett.

The ex-wife of the late Justin Strzelczyk, who took his own life after suffering the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after his career was over took exception to Adams comments and said he “doesn’t know what’s coming down the pipeline”. The attorney of former player Dave Duerson (who also took his own life while dealing with side effects of CTE) said the following:

“Unfortunately these players don’t die on the playing field in a sudden-death fashion They die a horrible death later in life and, leading up to in many cases, suicide. This is not a badge of honor for the gladiator who played 13 years in the NFL or two weeks. It’s a real problem. The macho, tough-guy mentality has to change.”

The thing is, though, if you watch that clip above again, when Adams says he would gladly die on the field, his comment is met with applause. With the NFL Commish sitting right next to him. Just days after a report was released detailing a study which found 110 brains of 111 deceased NFL players showed the effects of CTE1. All in all, it’s not a great look.

But I wonder if Adams’ comments are really that serious. I get it, he used the word “literally” multiple times so we should take him seriously. But the thing is, the word literally doesn’t mean literally anymore.

I don’t think Jamal Adams is naive to the dangers of playing football and I don’t think he’s insensitive toward those who suffer with a very serious issue in CTE. He’s just young and he’s playing to the passion he has for the game and the passion that the fans have for it as well. Maybe he meant literally in the classic sense of the word, or maybe he was using it to further stress his love for the game. I don’t think Adams wants to die on the field and I don’t think he was trying to downplay the impact CTE has had on others.

It’s well documented that the relationship with fans is changing as we understand more about the dangers of the sport. And certainly the relationship is rapidly changing among parents of children who wish to play the sport.

I have no problem with anyone who spoke out in response to Jamal Adams’ comments. They were all speaking from a place of personal experience and sharing the context of what CTE means to them in their lives. But that’s what Adams was doing as well. He’s a young guy who hasn’t yet reached the stage of life where things like mortality come into focus and where things outside of sports take on a greater sense of importance in our lives. Things like family, health, general well-being.

Jamal Adams gave a very honest answer and I’m one who loves it when players speak honestly and from the heart. He showed his passion for the game and I like seeing passion from people. I do think his comments show that we still have a long way to go to change the way young people minimize the severity of the risks in their lives, but that’s a battle we may never win.

Brain injury and football is a very serious issue and I don’t want to take it lightly. It’s a story that’s not going away anytime soon. It’s a cloud that perpetually hangs over the NFL’s head and it’s a story that needs to be told and discussed. But young rookies like Jamal Adams are not the villains here in this story and it’s been a little crazy seeing some of the backlash paint him as such.

I feel pretty confident that ten years from now Adams will look back on his statement and feel quite differently about it. That’s just life. But hey, at least it’s football season again and we’re back to talking about football! Right?

  1. Obviously this study is almost certainly flawed. The brains were likely donated because the players showed signs of CTE while still alive. Nobody is suggesting that 99.099% of all NFL players have CTE. But the study certainly raises eyebrows to the seriousness of the CTE issue in the NFL. []