John Clay: Bengals owner Mike Brown shares jarring opinion about player safety

CINCINNATI — You have heard all this stuff in the news recently about long-term health issues with regard to football players who suffer concussions.

Mike Brown thinks it's a bunch of hooey.

Well, not hooey necessarily.

"It's not proven," said the owner of the Cincinnati Bengals on Tuesday.

The occasion was the annual kickoff luncheon at Paul Brown Stadium that welcomes the start of training camp for the NFL team. Head coach Marvin Lewis was available for interviews. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons were available for interviews.

In an annual highlight, Brown was available for one of his rare interviews. Boy was he ever.

Brown admitted the Bengals have altered their draft emphasis in recent years to try and shed the team's reputation for fostering problem players who too often get into off-the-field trouble.

"We've made a concerted effort to draft well-behaved people," Brown said. "This is how we want to be perceived. We dug ourselves into a hole and I'm probably the one who caused it. We gave opportunities to people and in the process of doing it over the years we were branded."

Brown believes the Bengals are well on the way to changing that perception, which is one reason he allowed a return appearance on HBO's Hard Knocks. The show gives a behind-the-scenes look at an NFL team during training camp.

"We have good people," Brown said. "We want the public to see that."

What Brown cannot see, however, is why there is all this fuss over the long-term effect of concussions.

Never mind that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made preventing concussions a focus of the league, or that two weeks ago a federal judge in Philadelphia ordered mediation to settle a suit filed by former players against the league in regard to concussion-related injuries.

"Don't get me wrong," Brown said Tuesday, "I'm for doing everything we can to protect the players."

But ...

"This is not proved at all and yet we are besieged by it in the media and in the courts."

An athlete in high school and during his college days at Dartmouth, Brown said, "I've had my share of concussions and I can still count to 10."

The fact that Brown has been "concussed" over the years comes as no surprise to his detractors, of course.

The owner relayed the story of how he once was knocked out on the field and woke up in the locker room on a gurney with his mother standing over him, "which caused me great consternation, having my mother in the locker room."

He once received a concussion when hit by a baseball during batting practice. He received another when during a handoff exchange the running back's elbow struck Brown squarely on the chin.

"Those sorts of things were part of sports in my era," Brown said, "and it still is."

The 77-year-old owner says he knows plenty of people who suffer from dementia who have never played football. He claimed studies show that the overall health of former football players is "superior to the norm, not inferior to the norm."

Indeed, just last year, two studies conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that former football players in general do live longer than their male counterparts.

Brown insisted he's not arguing concussions are harmless, rather the view that the issue "right now it's in a state of uncertainty and contention. It's one of the things that we have to deal with."

Not sure Goodell would approve of Brown's way of dealing with it, however. The owner may be right, but there seems to be plenty of evidence to at least sound the alarm where concussions and football are concerned.

In the long-term interests of the game, it's best to play attention to the warnings.

"Where the alarm is good is that it makes us play it safe," Brown said, "but I'm just not sure anybody knows."

Bengals' upcoming dates

Thursday — Training camp practices begin in Cincinnati

Aug. 8 — Pre-season opener at Atlanta

Sept. 8 — Regular-season opener at Chicago

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