Photo by Stephen Pinchback/Houston Athletics Communications UH QB David Piland (5) with receiver Deontay Greenberry (3) in happier times
On that same date that the documentary aired, the University of Houston announced that the career of red shirt junior quarterback David Piland was over. This was because of concussion injuries, and Piland's inability to pass the school's concussion protocol. The school acknowledged that Piland had suffered two concussions over the past two seasons, and it's possible that he had experienced more.
Football is a physical sport. Players face the prospect of a crippling injury every time they step on the field. But it's the concussion issue that has been climbing to the forefront, and which may be the most devastating of the injuries.
UH head coach Tony Levine said that Piland appeared to be outwardly okay. He could handle bright lights, his balance was fine, that he appeared to be mentally okay. Yet he could not pass the protocol, leaving the doctors with no choice to tell him not to play, and to retire.
"Starting quarterback David Piland has been going through our concussion management plan since he was injured in the first half of the game a few weeks ago against Temple," Levine said. "We've had extensive meetings, both he and I and certainly with our medical staff. Over the past few days, our medical staff has advised David Piland to no longer play football. This has not been easy, certainly on David and his family. Moving forward, he is going to definitely continue to be a part of our program, travel with the team, be at meetings, and be at practice. We are going to certainly support him in every way possible. He is a young man that has handled everything throughout his entire career here with class." Thinking about Piland makes you think of other players. Rice QB Taylor McHargue has also suffered from concussions, and was removed from a game earlier this year when his head coach David Bailiff noticed that he wasn't responding normally to questions on the sideline. And in the run-up to Rice's next game, Bailiff made it clear that McHargue would play only if he passed the school's concussion protocol.
Perhaps this is just a college thing, the schools being extra careful with concussions. As Frontline made clear, the NFL is still in denial over the concussion issue -- even in the big concussion settlement that just came down, the league refused to admit that repeated concussions can be dangerous. That the NFL is in denial is rather amazing concerning the suffering of many past stars. The stories of Mike Webster and Junior Seau are perhaps most devastating, but then think of players like Steve Young and Troy Aikman who retired because of concussions, then think of the non-stars who didn't make the millions and are now struggling to get through life.
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Levine said one of the toughest things was explaining to Piland that his career was over. He wasn't feeling the impacts of his final concussion, and it's just hard to grasp that he can't play anymore.
"This has not been easy on David for a number of reasons," Levine said. "In no specific order, it's an issue medically where, thank goodness, today, at this moment, he feels great. His health right now is outstanding. Certainly it's deceiving in that he feels like he can play, wants to play, he's a competitor, and has invested so much personally, made tremendous life-long friends in his time here in our program, but can no longer play due to the concussion and where he is medically and certainly looking long-term at his health and well-being being at our top priority, so that has not been easy. He's just given everything he's had to our program. To meet with him, talk with him, visit with his family, I know how much he was looking forward to this season. Again, for his career to end like it did just breaks your heart."
The Houston Cougars will survive without David Piland. It's refreshing to see a school and a team putting the health and safety of a player over the good of the team. And hopefully in the years to come, Piland will live happy and healthy, the effects from the concussions minimized by his early retirement from the sport.
One could only wish the NFL cared as much. The Frontline documentary was damning, and it's a wonder that people like Paul Tagliabue, Roger Goodell, and various league-paid doctors can sleep at night. The league is slowly taking steps toward player safety, especially in regards to concussions. Let's just hope the NFL is finally doing enough to prevent more incidents like those involving Mike Webster and Junior Seau.