Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–3–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue Bombers should refuse to play Buck for his own good

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With what we are learning about brain injuries suffered in sports, it would be unconscionable not to shut Buck Pierce down for the rest of the season.

Whether it comes from Bill Watchorn or Garth Buchko or Joe Mack, someone in authority with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers needs to step up and order Pierce ineligible to play for the rest of this season. This is more than merely a football decision --it's an organization-wide concern.

Nothing can be gained from him playing in the near future, while much can be lost. If there's anything we should be learning from the recent data and new understanding of long-term effects due to head trauma, it's that teams should be more careful with their players.

The Bombers have yet to put an official diagnosis on Pierce's latest episode, but here's what we do know. The quarterback got hit on the jaw with another player's helmet in a violent collision Saturday night.

Early tests showed no signs of a concussion, but by halftime Pierce was suffering from severe headaches and did not return.

The Bombers and Pierce have been very careful with the wording on Pierce's head injuries since he joined the team and the player only admits to having one concussion during his pro career.

But the Vancouver Province reports during his time with the Lions, he suffered injuries with concussion-like symptoms on five occasions. Pierce has left four games during his time with the Bombers after blows to the head.

That's nine episodes. Call them whatever you want. But there should be warning lights going off.

Before investigating the human side of this issue, the football aspect spells out quite clearly there is little upside to playing Pierce again. The Bombers are 3-10 and close to flatlining for the season.

The playoffs are still a mathematical chance, but it's ridiculous to worry about the post-season. Taking risks to be some team's doormat for an away playoff game is not long-range thinking.

This team is done, and while I think the franchise needs a complete remodel at the quarterback position, perhaps there is something to be salvaged from the group of Alex Brink, Joey Elliott and Justin Goltz. Personally, I've seen enough of Brink and Elliott, but what's the harm now in giving them another look? Goltz needs an audition as well, and now is the time.

When the Bombers signed Pierce, they knew it was risky. They got some reward as he helped the team to the Grey Cup game last season. But after Saturday's events, the risk has become unacceptable. Pierce must not take the field again.

CFL commissioner Mark Cohon shouldn't stand blithely by on this one either. Pierce is one of his players and a member of the CFL family. He needs to be protected from further damage and most likely from his own will and desire to play football. Cohon needs to take an interest.

Allowing Pierce to play again would go well beyond some sort of macho pursuit of victory. It would border on reckless endangerment.

The image of Pierce's hand shaking as he held a drink on the sidelines Saturday night is disturbing, to say the least. Let Pierce play again and suffer further damage and that tableau could haunt the people of Winnipeg permanently.

 

Perception is reality in this case and whether that shaking hand has anything to do with Saturday night's helmet to the chin doesn't matter. People have made the connection and should Pierce play again and get hit in the head and suffer serious injury, the image will paint the Bombers organization in a terrible light.

They've had enough image-bashing to last a decade this year. The organization needs to protect itself as well as Pierce. Neither can take the risk of him playing again.

Yes, this is football and it's a violent game and people get hurt. But even in caged bloodsports the referee is charged with stopping a fight when a combatant can no longer protect himself.

Taking away a player's ability to earn a living should not be taken lightly. Nor should protecting him and his future ability to function in society. Pierce suffered a brain injury on Saturday night. Putting him in the line of fire again for any reason would open the Bombers up to criticism and perhaps worse.

Mr. Pierce is a strong person with good intentions. That doesn't make him infallible. Given the chance, from what I know of Pierce, he'll try to play again. It shouldn't be his decision. Not anymore.

Step up Blue Bombers. Do the right thing.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2012 C1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

 

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