Chris Owusu has struggled to stay healthy, that's a fact that you can't avoid. Whether it's missing games at Stanford, or missing games at the pro-level, he's found it hard to stay on the field.
After suffering his 5th concussion in his young career, the time may be now for Owusu to put himself and his long-term health ahead of his dreams and aspirations of an NFL player.
Concussions have really come to the forefront in the NFL over the last 5 years. With several legal cases by former players moving through the courts, the NFL have implemented several procedures to both prevent and diagnose concussions, including a number of rule changes to decrease high impact collisions.
For many years the NFL rejected the notion that concussions caused long term medical conditions. However after extensive scientific research, they had no choice but to accept the findings. Concussions have been known to cause memory loss, depression, dementia and significant emotional problems.
In a study last year, it was found that 76 of 79 football players examined suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative disease of the brain. The NFL is still knee deep with the concussion settlement, after having it approved, there are several appeals delaying the payment of benefits. However we don't really want to get into the legal aspect of this case, because at the end of the day, this is about Chris Owusu.
Chris forced his way onto the roster this year after bouncing around the league following being undrafted in 2012. He had stops in San Francisco, San Diego and Tampa Bay before landing here in New York. He bounced from the practice squad to the active roster last year, and finished the 2015 pre-season as the Jets #3 receiver behind Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
Unfortunately for Chris, he has suffered several injuries, limiting him to just three games, two starts and six receptions. However the concussion he suffered against the New England Patriots may be the most worrying injury of all. In college he suffered three concussions in a 13 month span, including two in a three week period. Against Oregon State he left the stadium in an ambulance following a helmet-to-helmet collision.
The goal in the NFL is to leave on your own-terms, you don't want to be forced out by an injury. You may remember that earlier this year, the 49'ers had several players retire or step away from the game. Promising tackle Anthony Davis stepped away citing the chance to allow his "Brain and body to heal". Chris Borland stepped away after one year, fearing the effects of a concussion on his long term health. It has also been rumored that Eric Reed has stated he may consider retiring if concussions become a problem.
Chris Owusu is a good player, with potential, but this is his 5th concussion and he's not hit his 26th birthday yet. He's a Stanford man who majored in Human Biology, football is his passion, football is his life, but is it worth his life? I fear for Owusu and the long-term damage these concussions will have on his future. We've all read the more extreme stories, but most retired players with CTE talk of the daily pain they experience. Some have commented that had the research been available when they were playing, they would have walked away.
Any player who suffers a concussion will need to clear the NFL protocol before they are allowed to return to practice. Many people have asked what that includes and how long it takes. First things first, there is no set timetable for how long it takes, outlined in the NFL document itself, it clearly states that every concussion is different and every player should be treated on a case-by-case basis. So just because a first time concussion sufferer returns from the protocol in 3 days, it doesn't mean someone like Chris will return in three days, what with this being his 5th concussion. Although with younger players it does dictate that 24 hours separate the progress from one step to the next.
The NFL concussion protocol can be broken down like this:
Step 1: Rest & Recovery
Step 2: Light Aerobic Exercise
Step 3: Introduction of Strength Training
Step 4: Football Specific Work
Step 5: Full Football Activity
Once you reach and complete step five, you are cleared to return and play. If concussion symptoms reappear at any stage, they must stop and repeat the steps. This is not a perfect system but it does help give players the template and foundations for recovery.
Now you would expect Chris to take it very slow during this process. I have to imagine that someone is talking to him about his long-term future. I personally think the team has a responsibility to sit down with him go over his options. As mentioned previously, you don't want to be carried away from this game in an ambulance.
It's never easy to walk away from the money, the fame, the feeling of achievement. However at some point, you need to put it all into perspective. Chris Borland put it into perspective, he wasn't willing to gamble his future for the sake of a game. Will Chris Owusu make the same decision? The truth is, I don't know. I haven't spoken to Chris and as far as I'm aware, he hasn't spoken recently about his history of concussions.
The time is coming for Chris to make a big decision about his future, and only he can make the decision that's right for him.