Jets’ McElroy Hid Concussion

New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy was experiencing post-concussion syndrome but hid it from the team for days.


New York Jets quarterback Greg McElroy was experiencing post-concussion syndrome but hid it from the team for days.

ESPN (“Greg McElroy hid concussion“):

The New York Jets’ coaching staff didn’t know Greg McElroy had been experiencing concussion symptoms this week.

His teammates did.

According to several players McElroy confided in, the quarterback had been wrestling for days with the decision to tell the Jets’ medical staff of his symptoms.

On Christmas night, McElroy visited wide receiver Clyde Gates in the hotel where the team stays during the season. Gates had been diagnosed with a concussion earlier in the season, and listened to McElroy’s concerns.

“He came to my room and we talked about it,” Gates told “He was hurting real bad. I was like, ‘Bro, I know, I’ve been down that road already. I’m just saying you can’t try to tough it out cause you going to end up hurting yourself. You’ve got to let everybody know how you really feel.’ ”

Left guard Matt Slauson was also aware of McElroy’s condition.

“He definitely has that (warrior) mentality, but it got to the point where it was scaring him,” Slauson said.

Slauson revealed to that he, like McElroy, had a concussion in either 2010 or 2011 that he didn’t report to the Jets, and another in his senior season at Nebraska. Of the more recent concussion, Slauson said he got through it on his own.

“I didn’t feel like it warranted (being reported),” Slauson said. “I was in bad shape, but I could focus on my plays. I figured I’d pop a couple of Aspirin and be fine.”

McElroy experienced headaches during his morning lift at the Jets facility, and finally approached Jets trainers with his symptoms. Coach Rex Ryan immediately decided McElroy would not start when the Jets travel to Buffalo for the final game of the season on Sunday. In McElroy’s place, Ryan again passed over Tim Tebow and went to former starter Mark Sanchez, who was benched after throwing four interceptions in Tennessee on Dec. 17.


Ryan said McElroy should have been honest with the trainers about his condition, but seemed to understand that McElroy didn’t want to give up a starting opportunity in a league where they don’t come easily. Gates said that was probably a consideration for McElroy.

“It probably was a little pressure,” Gates said. “I don’t blame him, the position he was in, to start another game, any competitive player would’ve been like, ‘I’m going to shake it off and make it work.’ But, still, you got to be smart about it. I feel for him though. I understand how he feels, but you can’t go against a concussion injury.”

Ryan said “players need to be honest” given all the medical information about concussions available. Research shows that sustaining additional concussions before the brain heals is more damaging to a player.

“I think, hopefully, this will be an example to all the players,” Ryan said. “Because the worst thing that could’ve happened is he would’ve gone out there with nobody knowing how he really felt and hurt himself.”

McElroy, who led Alabama to a national championship in 2009, is a smart guy. He finished his degree in three years despite the demands of being an SEC quarterback and was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. He knows that playing again before fully recovering from a concussion risks severe damage and premature death. And, yet, the lure of getting to start a second NFL game was enough for him to seriously weigh taking that risk.

Nor is McElroy one of those players for whom athletic talent was a ticket out of poverty. His father is an executive with the Dallas Cowboys. Suffice it to say, he has a wide range of options ahead of him. Further, McElroy’s future is more likely that of a career backup followed by a career in coaching or administration—assuming he stays with football at all—than as a longer-term starter.

The League is, far too late, taking serious steps to mitigate the risks of head trauma in what is inherently a violent game. But, if even a Greg McElroy is willing to take such a huge risk against long odds of glory as a starting quarterback, the pressures on a guy for whom football is his only shot at a successful life must be exponentially higher.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. This all goes with the idea of “playing hurt,” which may make sense if you’re talking about a muscle strain or something, but is absolutely nonsensical when you’re talking about head trauma. The NFL probably needs to do a better job of educating players about this — heck, it needs to start at the college level if not before then — but there’s not much you can do if a player is going to put his ego before his health.

  2. Herb says:

    Hmmm…..I don’t know the guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was hiding the symptoms not out of ambition…..but team loyalty.

    His back-ups are guys who were benched* and are going to be traded in the off-season. Maybe it wasn’t so much about soaking in the glory of his second start (not much of an accomplishment really) than letting the guys on the team down.

    (* Sanchez literally, Tebow effectively.)

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The solution, clearly, is to ban concussions. Or to mandate that players tell team doctors if they’re experiencing concussion-related symptoms.

    Because as we all know we legislatively can modify human behavioral patters, brain chemistry, impulses, etc., into producing exactly the results we wish to achieve. That’s why anti-drug laws work so well. That’s why anti-sodomy laws work so well and are enforced with such vigor. And, yes, that’s why gun control ordinances have worked so well, especially in places like D.C., Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco and Philly. That’s also why Connecticut’s statewide gun control statutory scheme, along with “gun free zones” in and around its school districts, prevented Lanza from carrying out the Sandy Hook massacre.

    The crazy irony of course is that there are liberals who would read the foregoing grafs and somehow manage to miss the obvious points, like JV players whiffing on a tackle of a prime Barry Sanders.

    In any event, McElroy’s story is as old as football itself and all competitive sports. Boxers have fought with serious injuries that they’ve hid from their trainers and managers. And those guys quite literally put their lives on the line when they enter the ring. MMA fighters have done the same. Probably the overwhelming majority of professional athletes have competed at times when physically or mentally they shouldn’t have competed. Fear of letting their teams down. Fear of being replaced. Intense drive and ambition. A misplaced feeling of invincibility. Combined often with youth and inexperience. Psychology 101.

  4. Franklin says:

    For McElroy, this decision really should have been a no-brainer (no pun intended). He’s young, and he did well enough to get another chance whether it was the next game or the next year. And as we see constantly, even backup quarterbacks get a lot of opportunities. I’m glad he either came to his senses or someone else convinced him.

  5. Ben says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    This all goes with the idea of “playing hurt,” which may make sense if you’re talking about a muscle strain or something, but is absolutely nonsensical when you’re talking about head trauma. The NFL probably needs to do a better job of educating players about this — heck, it needs to start at the college level if not before then — but there’s not much you can do if a player is going to put his ego before his health.

    Oh, come on Doug. This has nothing to do with education or ego, and educating players more won’t do any good when it comes to situations like this. I totally get why McElroy tried to do what he did. He’s a backup, and he’s probably always going to be a backup. And backups don’t tend to last long in the NFL. Most teams would rather keep a rookie or second year guy as a backup, on the chance that they may become the next Tom Brady. Once you’re in your fourth or fifth year as a backup, you’re usually out of the league, unless you’ve proven you can be a starter when needed.

    McElroy saw this as his one chance to have a sustained career, and now it’s been derailed after one start. It sucks to make it that close to your dream and then have to let it go. That’s why he tried to “tough it out”. So that he could have a career that lasts longer than a year or two, make a lot of money and set up his family for life. Before having to go back out and shlub his way to a normal job and normal amounts of money.

    I can’t say what I would do if I were in such a situation, but I totally get why you would try to gut it out and keep going. We’re talking about the chance to become fabulously wealthy and have a career as a professional athlete. Those chances don’t just come and go multiple times. Most players that get any shot at all, only get one shot. Very very very few get a second one.

  6. de stijl says:

    A Jet hid a medical problem from the team? Color me shocked! The Jets are an unprofessional and dysfunctional team by NFL standards; it starts at the top and permeates the whole – owner, GM, mouthy coaching staff, team members that anonymously pop off to the NY Post twice a week, and other / the same athletes who talk outrageously foolish smack in defiance of their actual skill level. The Jets are ripe for a thorough house-cleaning.

    Fireman Ed had the right impulse when he bailed in November.

    BTW, is there anything Tebow can’t ruin?

  7. Just Me says:

    There is still a lot we don’t know about concussions, and it is only in recent years that sports-professional and other levels have started to pay attention to them and have realized playing with a concussion often brings further risks.

    I can see where this guy saw his opportunity door closing if he reported his symptoms. When you are the guy looking for the chance to play, and you end up injured chances are often good that some other guy is going to walk through the door and it will be closed forever. But there is also a certain element of just wanting to play-they don’t want to sit out waiting for an injury to heal to get back in the game, and the bad thing about concussion compared to other injury is that there isn’t a defined date when you get to come back.

    I don’t follow football closely, but am a huge hockey fan, and concussion has ended the career of some players, and has kept some players out for a year or more, while other players return after a couple of weeks.

    Professional sports-where players are bigger, stronger, and hit far harder really need to develop a clear concussion protocol. But even with a clear protocol in place, much of the diagnosis is still going to require the players be honest about symptoms.

  8. bk says:

    Tsar, do you have some weird form of Tourette’s that compels you to go on an anti-“liberal” tangent regardless of the subject matter at hand?

  9. Oh Goodness, do I understand what McElroy’s going through. Simple fact: toughness in athletics, especially with normally debilitating injuries, is a currency. If you’re perceived as not being tough, you have a rough going in the locker room and with coaches, especially if you’re a seventh round pick trying to make it in the NFL. Upbringing, background, none of those things matter if you’re an athlete at that level. It literally never enters your mind; you know in your mind that you have the chance to accomplish something that “normal” people can’t do, even if it’s just gutting through an otherworldly level of pain and suffering to accomplish a job that few could do healthy.

    I lost count of the number of concussions I’ve played or worked (as a referee) through. Hell, I’ve lost count of the number of concussions I’ve had, period. I can’t play sports anymore becuase of concussions, though I wouldn’t have gone about things any differently. If you’re a high level athlete, it’s necessary to have a mentality that the average person doesn’t understand.