Messages sent to the University of California athletic office over the past two weeks have not implored team doctors to put the Bears’ star running back, Jahvid Best, back on the field to help Cal against archrival Stanford this Saturday. Instead, they generally scolded the university and coaches for allowing Best, currently sidelined with a concussion, to play Nov. 7 against Oregon State. A harrowing neck-first crash to the turf in that game not only knocked him unconscious but it put him onto a stretcher and into an Oakland hospital overnight. The concussion was reported as Best’s second in eight days, leading many — having heard recent horror stories of football players’ brain damage — to question whether Best, 20, was put in unreasonable danger.
“The consistent theme is, What kind of example are we setting here for my son who’s in high school, who looks up to Jahvid as a role model, when he is sent back to play after supposedly a concussion of some severity?” said Dr. Brad Buchman, Cal’s supervising team physician. “The impression from the public is that he was quote-unquote sent back too fast.” Buchman added, “You know you’re doing all the right things, and the perception is that you are not.” Best’s concussion has invited new scrutiny, which Buchman noticed immediately. He said that ever since a study sponsored by the N.F.L. was released two months ago, concussions have become “a buzzword now” that the public expects to be heeded.
That study indicated that dementia and other memory-related diseases had been diagnosed in the league’s retired players several times more often than in the national population. The study also sparked a Congressional committee to hold a hearing on football brain injuries among players of all ages.
The primary point of contention around Berkeley is whether Best had sustained a concussion in the game before his more serious injury. Best remarked to the news media after missing two days of practice that trainers had told him he had sustained a concussion. Buchman and the associate football team physician, Dr. Casey Batten, however, said that they later determined that Best’s headache and dizziness were merely from a cold, and that he was cleared for the Arizona State game appropriately.