Days after Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay likened the risks of playing football to the potential side effects of taking aspirin, ever-candid NFL veteran DeAndre Levy took to social media to express his reaction. That reaction was one of doubt and disdain, as Levy derided Irsay for his reductive, misleading remarks.
Questioning Irsay’s expertise on the matter -- and, unfortunately, referencing the owner’s past substance abuse issues -- Levy wrote, “Frequent trips to the pharmacy makes you a medical expert on CTE?”
CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is the degenerative brain disease that has been linked to recurrent hits to the head, such as those suffered on the football field. And while the NFL had refuted the connection between the game and the disease for years, league official Jeff Miller made headlines two weeks ago when he acknowledged the potentially causal relationship.
A week later, Irsay followed in the footsteps of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones by giving a proverbial shake of the head at the increasingly loud -- and public -- concussion conversation, uttering the aspirin analogy when speaking with the SportsBusiness Journal at the annual NFL owners meeting.
"I believe this: that the game has always been a risk, you know, and the way certain people are,” he said. “Look at it. You take an aspirin, I take an aspirin, it might give you extreme side effects of illness and your body ... may reject it, where I would be fine. So there is so much we don't know.”
What happened next was predictable. Irsay’s shockingly off-key, out-of-touch comment gained traction with both the press and players like Levy, who slammed it for its fallacy.
Even prior to Tuesday, Levy had made his stance on the “concussion issue” abundantly clear. On Instagram, on multiple occasions, he has posted pointed captions and comments directed at the league, such as: “@nfl Why is Dr. Elliot Pellman, the rheumatologist who helped concealed and lied about the link between football and CTE, still employed by you guys?”
In the same vein, just a few days ago, he responded to another Instagram user’s comment by explaining that the consequences and potential boons of the NFL concussion conversation reach far beyond the league itself: “[The NFL] made $10 billion last year, have tremendous influence and are able to be the leading force but aren't pushing the advancement of the issue. So potential treatment and prevention can help not on players, but people like your mother also.”
As of late, a growing number of players have been willing to take the baton, step up and speak publicly about their health-related gridiron concerns. One such example came on Monday, when 30-year-old safety Husain Abdullah retired, citing concussion concerns in his farewell note.
In order to effect change in the stagnant, stubborn NFL, players like Levy and Abdullah need to continue to make waves -- and, by making those waves, hopefully some progress will be made, as well.