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Michael Vick: NFL's Soon-to-Be Role Model on Concussions?

A few months ago, the NFL set a new standard for player safety in their new collective bargaining agreement by restricting the total number of each team's padded practices and limiting two-a-day practices.

After Sunday night, the NFL has the opportunity to set an example in the realm of player safety once again.

Depending on what happens with Michael Vick, the NFL may end up sending the message that a player's health matters more than championship aspirations, no matter how grandiose they might be.

VickConcussed.jpg

Vick, the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, sustained a concussion during the third quarter of the Eagles game against the Atlanta Falcons last night. Vick was tackled by an Atlanta defender and his helmet bumped against the helmet of one of his own teammates, Todd Herremans. Vick immediately left the field, spitting up blood on the way.

One look at Vick's eyes said it all. He wore a glossy, dazed look that's a surefire warning sign of a concussion, and yet somehow, the announcers of the game didn't once use the word concussion in the broadcast after the injury. (Not good, NFL.)

For now, the spotlight will be shining brightly on Vick and the Eagles. Philadelphia fans don't have to think back very far—okay, Week 1 of last season, in fact—for the last time their team caught some concussion-related heat.

In that Week 1 game, Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb left after taking a blow to the head, as did linebacker Stewart Bradley. Both returned to the game at some point, despite Bradley struggling to stay on two feet after the hit that injured him.

Since then, the NFL (and sports leagues in general) have only been taking concussions more seriously—and for good reason. The NCAA just got slapped with a class action lawsuit over concussions last week, and the NFL's currently facing two lawsuits over concussions from former players.

In other words, the mantra "better safe than sorry" will be popping up more and more for concussed players this year. The last thing the NFL needs is for a player to return to a game before fully healing from a concussion, taking another massive hit, and having the damage to his brain start compounding.

But for an Eagles team with clear Super Bowl aspirations this year, a long-term injury to Vick may already be the death knell for the NFL's "Dream Team."

Eagles head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder addressed the media earlier today, saying that Vick told his teammates and coaches last night that he felt "fine" and "pretty far along."

Unlike five years ago, when team doctors would have likely taken Vick at his word and allowed him to suit up for Week 3, he'll have to run through a battery of tests to prove that he's healed.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'm originally from Philadelphia, and remain a huge Eagles fan to this day. So, naturally, I'm pulling for Vick to heal up quickly and get back on the field ASAP.

That said, having watched Stewart Bradley stumble his way back onto the field last year, here's hoping the Eagles take all the proper precautions before allowing Vick to practice or play again.

If the Eagles temporarily sideline their Super Bowl dreams by forcing Vick to fully recover from his concussion, they'll help the NFL send a message to prep, college, and professional coaches alike: player safety needs to take precedence, even over winning.

Photo: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick hangs his head after being injured in the second half of Sept. 18's football game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (John Amis/AP)

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