But they can be treated.
“This injury is not something that goes on to lead to long-lasting problems if it's managed well,” said Micky Collins, who should know.
Collins is a founding member of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Sports Concussion Program and one of the leading experts on these brain injuries. He has researched for decades and seen more than 3,000 cases a year over the course of his career.
This man knows concussions.
Collins himself has seen lots of people who are messed up by concussions, who don't have the injury managed well, who do have long-lasting effects.
“People think that this is the boogie man,” he said. “There is a lot of hysteria around this injury right now, and rightfully so.
“However, in athletes that are managed well … we can hit the reset button on a great majority,” he said. “It's an injury that can be managed.”
But the thing is, far too often, we hear that someone has a concussion and we think it'll only be few days before they're back. Sometimes, that's the case; Kobe Bryant didn't miss a game after taking a nose-busting, concussion-causing elbow from Dwyane Wade during the All-Star Game. But sometimes, weeks and even months go by before their brain has healed.
Remember when Blake Griffin was at Oklahoma and missed a week with a concussion? No one could even figure out how he suffered the injury. Texas coach Rick Barnes eventually saw an inadvertent elbow to the ear while watching film, but it seemed minor compared to what Big Blake had endured. Still, it was bad enough to sideline him for a week.
You just don't know about these brain injuries.
That's why it's impossible to know about Harden.
Will he be back in uniform Tuesday night for the Thunder's game against the Kings? Or will it be Wednesday against the Nuggets? Or will it be when the playoffs start this weekend? Or will it be a week or a month?
We have no way of knowing.
But what we do know is that Harden has a brain injury. Every last one of them has to be treated properly. Every last one of them has to be taken seriously.
There are far too many horror stories about the ones that weren't.