Having their heads examined

Browns concussions
In this photo from 2011, trainers tend to then-Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy after he was hit in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh. (Associated Press)

Back in December 2011, which seems like ancient history for followers of this high-turnover franchise, a debacle featuring Browns QB Colt McCoy prompted the NFL to strengthen its protocol for handling concussions. Obviously concussed from a hit by repeat offender James Harrison, McCoy returned to the field and threw a game-losing interception. By not evaluating him promptly, the Browns exposed the young quarterback to the risk of second-impact syndrome, a rare but catastrophic consequence of suffering another head injury before the first has healed.

That infamous game was McCoy’s 16th straight start for Cleveland, his last before being traded to San Francisco 16 months later. No Browns quarterback has matched that streak since. In those four subsequent seasons, Cleveland has led the league in one especially lamentable, visceral mark of futility: no team has had more players suffer concussions.

Given all the attention concussions and their aftermath have received in recent years — from class-action lawsuits to blockbuster movies — it boggles the mind that fans would begrudge their team’s most popular and well-grounded players (namely Joe Haden and Andrew Hawkins) for reporting head injuries, following medical protocols, and missing action because of them. And it borders on outrageous that a former player such as Je’Rod Cherry would tweet, upon the news that another Browns QB, Johnny Manziel, will miss playing Harrison and the Steelers due to a concussion, “If you’re serious about winning, you better play through some concussions.”

Sadly, Cherry is not the only one who’s slow to get the message that health trumps winning. Navigating life means accepting some risk but not being heedless in the face of overwhelming expert evidence. We value competitors, but we undervalue the role of bringing good judgment to the game rather than just all-out, gung-ho battle at any cost.

Recall the opening drive of the opening game this year, when 36-year-old QB Josh McCown launched himself toward the goal line, got popped, fumbled, missed the rest of that game and the next with a concussion, and nonetheless was praised by head coach Mike Pettine:

“He’s a football player. He’s a competitor… I don’t know how you coach a competitor, a real football player, to slide there.”

The message that sends to his charges is just one reason among many that Pettine’s tenure with the Browns should end after this weekend.

My Browns book of lists, Brown for the Count, is dedicated “For all the men who lost more than just games being Cleveland Browns.”  So let’s leave it with this, a list of all the Browns players diagnosed with concussions in just the past four years: