Swope's Retirement Suggests NFL Taking Concussions More Seriously
Need further proof that National Football League is increasingly taking the long-term health risks of concussions seriously in the wake of mounting evidence linking them to dementia and other brain diseases? Just check out the story about the retirement of Ryan Swope, who was just drafted into the NFL earlier this year.
First, let me share a little bit about Swope. As a star receiver at Texas A&M University, Swope posted the school’s greatest receiving season with 89 catches for 1,207 yards as a junior. He also caught 11 touchdowns that year. In his senior year in 2012, Swope set the school record for career receptions with 252 receptions for 3,117 yards. He also had a career total of 24 touchdown receptions, which was second highest in school history. He also had a record 15 100-yard receiving games during his career. Swope was named to the 2011 Second-Team All-Big 12 team in 2011 and the Second-Team All-SEC team in 2012.
Swope also seemed to specialize in making the toughest plays, the ones where defenders were charging at him full-speed as the football was coming to him. And, not surprisingly, Swope had his bell rung several times. In fact, the receiver suffered four concussions during his playing days at Texas A&M.
It was that history that dropped Swope’s stock in the 2013 National Football League draft. He ended up a sixth round pick by the Arizona Cardinals. However, many other NFL teams considered his selection a steal since Swope could run a 40-yard dash in 4.28 seconds and had excellent receiving skills (just watch the DudePerfect video on YouTube that has all sort of zany challenges for the native of Austin, Texas).
And then this summer, Swope participated in the Cardinals’ organized team activities where he yet again took a hard hit to the head. He was evaluated by doctors, who made a recommendation that I’m sure Swope and his fans didn’t want to hear. “As a result of a concussion I suffered during OTAs, I was advised by doctors that there were serious risks in returning to play football at this point,” Swope said in a statement. “It has been a lifelong dream to play in the NFL but my long-term health interests outweigh my current goals for football. Because of that, I am electing to retire from the game for now and then reassess my future after this season. In the meantime, I plan to return to Texas A&M to pursue my degree."
The Cardinal management was supportive of the decision; in fact, the statement that has been released sounds like they helped Swope make the decision to put away his shoulder pad and football helmet. "We knew Ryan has a concussion history in college and understood that it could possibly be an issue," said Cardinals general manager Steve Keim. "But weighing all the elements -- the medical information available, the particular position in the draft -- it was a decision we were comfortable making. As it turned out, he had a setback after he got here. Over the course of the subsequent evaluations, we all decided that Ryan's long-term well-being was the No. 1 priority and this was the best course to take."
While terribly sad for Swope, it also is a testament to how far everyone is coming in realizing the long-term consequences of concussions, which can include dementia and other brain diseases. The previous culture in football was not to sorry if someone got their bell rung. In fact, you were encouraged to play through whatever you experienced. It wasn’t until some of the older players started experiencing the symptoms of brain diseases that researchers started putting the puzzle pieces together. At first, the NFL didn’t want to acknowledge the issue.
However, the news about Ryan Swope sounds like everyone – the team, the medical staff and even the player – is beginning to get aligned on what is most important. In Ryan Swope’s case, what’s important is not the next spectacular catch or chalking up another touchdown reception. With his propensity for concussions, the important issue is to help this young man live a long and healthy life without increasing his risk of further brain damage. We all should applaud this decision – and hope other teams, medical doctors and players will follow this lead if—and when -- a similar case happens.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Rosenthal, G. (2013). Ryan Swope, Cards rookie, retires due to concussions. NFL.com.