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Bernstein: Outrage At Michigan Obscures Darker Truth

By Dan Bernstein-
CBS Chicago senior columnist

(CBS) We react more strongly to what we can see.

The visual is tangible and replayable, shared all but instantly everywhere for consumption and reaction. Feelings come less from thoughtful consideration than visceral response to what appears as a Vine post in a timeline.

First came the videos of Ray Rice beating his wife, displaying domestic violence in a way that made it impossible to continue to minimize, despite what we all really knew but cared not to confront. Then the graphic pictures of Adrian Peterson's son brought the searing pain of child abuse out from behind the cover of "discipline" and into the sunlight.

The latest images to cause uproar are those of Michigan quarterback Shane Morris, dazed on the field after a hit to the head, grabbing onto a teammate to keep from falling. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke is under deserved fire for both allowing him to remain in the game and issuing boneheaded postgame comments that betray an unconscionable lack of awareness and concern for an injured player.

Morris suffered what the school officially termed a "mild concussion," as if there is such possibility that traumatic brain injury can be mild in any way. This specific issue is serious, indeed: The danger of lethal second-impact syndrome exists for any player in that situation, and protocols must be in place to protect players from clueless oafs like Hoke who populate sidelines during games and practices at every level of football.

Still, there's anger merely due to what we saw, rather than so much that we didn't.

Every game contains hundreds upon hundreds of collisions that appear mundane, never rising to the level of inflammatory video clip because they are simply endemic to the game. Helmets thudding into helmets along the line, bodies thrown to the ground on every play and abrupt decelerations of speedy players cause movement of the brain within the skull. These sub-concussive impacts are the real danger.

That football has a concussion issue is not entirely true and is somewhat convenient for those invested in continuing to sell the sport to increasingly skeptical parents. The game is bad for brains in and of itself, and grandstanding over the most obvious and easily documented evidence diverts attention from that troubling fact.

Anyone this mad after seeing Morris dazed and reeling and unprotected should be aware of the continuing studies going on at Purdue University, where their Neurotrauma Group has been measuring the effect of football in a longitudinal study that began in 2009. What has become clear from their work and that of subsequent, similar studies is that concussions get all the headlines while plain old football is doing most of the damage to young brains.

Higher cognitive deficit was confirmed in those who never suffered concussions, because they were never removed from the continuing accumulation of impacts. The impairment was actually less for those who took the one big, clear hit and were properly taken out and allowed to recover.

That's not the kind of thing that can be shown easily on Twitter, but with even the slightest bit of understanding it should become even more chilling than the sight of a player struggling to stand. Where was the outrage over the potential damage being done in that game – or all the damage that has already been done previously in college and high school – to everyone else on that field?

While politicians such congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-NJ) take public positions on how concussions are managed by college programs and the NFL boasts of how significant they now know concussions to be, the game simmers along with more difficult questions unasked.

Some things we can work harder to see, if we want.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score's "Boers and Bernstein Show" in afternoon drive. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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