49ers QB Alex Smith was carrying the 3rd best Quarterback Rating in the NFL going into their game with the St. Louis Rams on November 11. In that game, he was concussed from a hit that resulted in Smith missing the remainder of the game and the following matchup with one of the league’s top defenses, the Chicago Bears, on Monday Night Football.
In his stead came Colin Kaepernick, the potential-laden 2nd year player from Nevada. Blessed with a rocket for an arm and the ability to run anywhere on the field, many in San Francisco were excited to see him play.
After throwing for 117 yards passing and rushing for 66 with a touchdown, Kaepernick followed that up with a shockingly strong 243 yards and 2 TD performance vs. the Bears. Following the game, it became obvious during coach Jim Harbaugh’s press conference that the “hot hand” was going to remain the starter.
We’ve seen this all before. It happened to Tommy Maddox in Pittsburgh when he got injured; Ben Roethlisberger came in and never lost the Steelers job to this day. Same thing even more famously when Mo Lewis, of the Jets, changed history by injuring Drew Bledsoe; Tom Brady went on to a Hall of Fame career for the Patriots, all because the starter got hurt.
What makes this case different is the circumstance in which Alex Smith got hurt.
In recent years, the NFL has been under attack for lacking protection for its players in regards to concussions. Dave Duerson, and many other retired players with issues, including others who have committed suicide, have shined a bright light on the lack of awareness and care the National Football League has given towards current and retired players during their playing days.
Of course, the most recent and devastating news to come out on this topic was the suicide of Chargers legend, Junior Seau, who shot himself in the chest earlier this year. San Diego papers would report many issues he had, but also the mood swings and social issues that laid on his mind since his retirement. His family lost a father, a city lost a hero, and the NFL once again looked like the money grabbing institution that instead of helping players, was pushing them even further with Thursday Night Football games and thoughts of an 18 game season.
Meanwhile, the roughest precedent is about to be played. A quarterback came out of a game because of a concussion, and now has lost his job because of it.
Perhaps it would be one thing if Alex Smith were playing badly – then blame could be placed on that – but the only reason for his job loss can be focused on an injury he attained allowing for another to jump in and take his starting job.
What the NFL did was right; a player clearly suffered a head injury, it got diagnosed, and he was held out of action until he was cleared to play. But now these players who have been thinking the NFL was protecting them will be more weary the next time they suffer a concussion.
These concussions are worse than other injuries players suffer, but they will be handled by players the same way as they always have – toughing it out and playing so you don’t lose your job. If coaches are not going to handle concussions as a separate issue like the NFL does, then it takes away from the league mandate to take care of them. If you can lose your job like an other injury, why wouldn’t players consider them the same as any other injury?
Jim Harbaugh, by starting Kaepernick and bypassing his incumbent starter, has opened Pandora’s Box with this issue. While Kaepernick has all the talent in the world, Alex Smith did nothing more than get a concussion during a game, and that led to losing his job. If this is the precedent that is set and will be kept, how will players react and handle concussions in the future?