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Eric Schmeltzer Headshot

Time for Brian Westbrook to Hang Them up

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Think about it -- you're at the ripe old age of 30, and you might not be able to do the job you love to do anymore. The job that everyone said you wouldn't really succeed at. The job you literally gave blood, sweat and tears to, and proved the naysayers wrong in the process. You're not just good at your dream job -- you're great. One of the best. And now if you keep doing it, there's a chance that you'll be ending your life early.

"A chance," you say. "A chance? I'll take my chances."

I guarantee you that a competitor like Eagles running back Brian Westbrook is thinking that today, two days after getting rocked by his second game-ending concussion in three games. Hey, it's only two, right? What could really happen? It's just freak bad luck. They said I couldn't play this game; I was too small. I'll just have to prove them wrong again. I'll think about it if it gets really bad.

The problem is that while it's just a chance, it's a game of Russian Roulette that you don't know you lost until it gets really bad some years down the road. A much publicized study from Boston University found, after the traumatic head trauma that Westbrook's now received twice, former players experienced a loss of control of their emotions, suicidal thoughts, dementia and depression. I was first made aware of the whole issue years ago, when I wrote here about the link between head trauma and the suicide of former Eagles safety Andre Waters.

Brian Westbrook might not feel any mental effects of the concussions for a long time. After a few weeks, he could feel right as rain and play again, thinking he proved everyone wrong. All the while, he'd be sustaining lesser blows to the head, if not something just as bad as recently. And he might still feel perfectly fine in his head. And somewhere around 2012, 2015 or so, he could find himself without any control of his life or his head. He could find himself ready to end it all.

It isn't worth it.

He might not realize that now, but it's up to the Philadelphia Eagles to make him realize it. They should immediately place him on Injured Reserve and end his season. With the free time he has, they should encourage him to visit the family of Andre Waters, to talk to them about what happened with Andre. They should set up a time for him to talk with the family of ex-Steeler Terry Long, who also took his own life after a history of concussions, as well as former Buccaneers Guard Tom McHale who died of a drug overdose, and others who are wrestling with their own demons, due to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (the long and scientific name for issues from repeated concussions).

One such player is former Patriots Linebacker Ted Johnson. Johnson is one of the lucky ones -- he merely wrestles with severe depression due to back-to-back concussions similar to Westbrook. But that's enough for him to try to raise awareness of the issue. He astutely pointed out, "I liken it to NASCAR drivers. They don't want to go to funerals or hospitals. They don't want to be reminded what can happen to them. Current players, they don't want to hear this stuff. They don't want to know what potentially could happen to them."

It's up to the Eagles and those around Brian Westbrook to force him to hear this stuff, first hand. It's up to them to convince him that the right way to end his story is for the Eagles to place his name on the team honor role with a joyous ceremony at Brian Westbrook night, and not a halftime ceremony years from now where his widow accepts a framed #36 jersey and old teammates wistfully remember their old running back who didn't stick around long enough to see how loved he really was.

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