Wes Welker wore a bigger helmet last Sunday to provide some extra protection for his brain, which was concussed twice this season.
Lots of folks had a field day poking fun at the oversized hard hat sported by the native Oklahoman when he and his Denver teammates played San Diego. As it is wont to do, the Twittersphere was particularly quick to quip.
“Wes Welker's helmet is big enough to fit Peyton Manning's forehead in it.”
“Wes Welker is currently wearing a size XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXL helmet.”
“Can't get enough of Welker's ‘Pablo Sanchez from Backyard Football' helmet.”
And we wonder why football is having such a hard time getting a handle on its concussion problem.
During the same week that a federal judge rejected the proposed settlement of the NFL concussion lawsuit because she worries that $765 million won't be enough to cover all of the effected players, the reaction to Welker's helmet is just another reminder of the struggle going on in this tough-guy sport. Executives, coaches, players and fans say that they want to get a handle on concussions, but then a player who's had a brain injury tries to do something to protect himself and is chastised.
Welker, the former Heritage Hall standout, suffered a concussion in mid-November during a game against Kansas City. After passing the league's concussion protocol tests and being cleared to play, he returned to the lineup the next week.
But a couple weeks later on Dec. 8, he suffered another concussion in a game against Tennessee.
He missed the Broncos' final three regular-season games and was cleared for full football activity only last week.
After having two concussions in three weeks, Welker and the Broncos went looking for a little more protection for his head. They opted for Riddell's 360 helmet. The equipment maker considers that model its top-of-the-line helmet. It has been on the market for two years, but according to people who know about such things, very few NFL players use it.
Apparently, it's not unusual for NFL players to wear the exact same helmet their entire careers. Some have even used the same helmet from college through the pros.
But Welker and the Broncos decided it best for him to have the most advanced technology available to shield his brain. Then, he reportedly wore one size bigger so the helmet could be fitted with a special insert that might've included impact sensors.
Did the helmet help?
Sure didn't hurt.
Welker had six catches, one touchdown and no concussions against the Chargers.
So, basically, you have a player who's willing to do whatever he can to protect himself against the scourge of his sport and is successful in his efforts, but the public reaction is to compare him to Dark Helmet from “Space Balls”.
The jokes on Twitter even continued well after Welker and the Broncos advanced to this Sunday's AFC championship game against the Patriots.
“Wes Welker donates last night's helmet to Haiti to be used as a house for up to four people.”
“If the whole D wears the Welker helmet, how would Brady throw through that sea of bobbleheads?”
Here's a better question: “Why aren't more guys doing what Welker did?”
Part of the reason is in the reaction that he received. Who wants to be the butt of jokes? What athlete wants to come off as anything other than a macho, macho man?
Heck, Welker even poked fun at his own helmet, telling Denver-area media late last week, “It is kind of looking like ‘The Jetsons' out there.”
A few years ago, New York Mets slugger David Wright wore a bigger, more protective batting helmet after suffering a concussion. Teasing from his teammates began immediately. A picture of the Great Gazoo, the green alien with the oversized helmet who made an occasional appearance in “The Flintstones” cartoons, was even tacked on Wright's locker in the clubhouse.
He eventually ditched the helmet, saying it was because it didn't fit right.
“It's just not comfortable,” he said.
Bet the teasing wasn't very comfortable either.
Here's hoping Welker is getting a better reception from his teammates. Maybe the guys who are first-hand witnesses to the ugliness of concussions have a different opinion. Maybe the men who put their brains on the line every Sunday realize this isn't a joking matter.
Trying to avoid a brain injury never looks ridiculous.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.