Commentary: NFL should assist with Harvin

Percy Harvin is a high-profile victim of debilitating migraine headaches, but the NFL could step in and help with its top team of medical experts. It would be a chance for the league to put its money toward actually helping players instead of fighting with them.

The collapse of Percy Harvin this week during practice at Winter Park is troubling on many levels. At a time in the history of the NFL that the league has (eventually) acknowledged that there is a link to playing football and long-term brain-related ramifications later in life, Harvin may be throwing the league a wild card it would be advised to pay considerable attention.

Of all the things in life I can complain about – don't get me started – one thing I can't say is that I've ever had a headache so bad it's been debilitating. I can sympathize, but can't empathize. The closest I ever came was the morning after vowing in Braveheart fashion, "That keg will die tonight!" However, long before I had ever heard of Percy Harvin, I already knew that the worst of my college-vintage brain cramps were a drop in the migraine bucket.

Whether by dumb luck or not, I've got a couple of buddies who are doctors and another who is a career migraine sufferer. Over the course of the 18 months, I have picked their brains about what is up with Percy's brain. The information I have received is troubling.

Experiencing migraines is almost like being an alcoholic. Your last migraine for a sufferer is like the last drink for an alcoholic. The longer you go without the next one is a positive. You keep track – it's been seven weeks without a (fill in migraine/drink here). From the medical perspective, every migraine sufferer is unique. What works for one doesn't always work for the next. For those afflicted with migraines, they will try any tonic, potion, New Age cure, voodoo science or guinea pig test group to get rid of them. Harvin tested positive for weed at the Combine? So would I. It's been known to relieve the pain – NFL drug tests be damned. My bobo who suffers from them claims magnets help. If you have seen the magnet bracelet "pull-on-your-arms" sobriety test, you may buy into that theory. I've asked Harvin if he has tried magnets and he said he hasn't.

Unfortunately, that is part of the problem. As often as I've mocked coaches blowing off an injury-related question by claiming "I'm not a doctor," I'm offering Harvin advice on a medical condition simply because it worked for a close friend of mine. And, as much I hate to say it, I'm not a doctor.

From the sounds of everything I've heard from those paisans on the medical side, those who suffer from migraines are effectively guinea pigs already. Most victims of migraines suffer in relative silence because they can't afford top-quality medical care – Harvin, on the other hand, was sent to the Mayo Clinic (a hospital of note) to see if they could do something for him. Guess what? It didn't take. I'm not dogging the Mayo docs – their success rate is better than Hazelden or Promises – but it goes to show that even medicos at the top of their field with a high-profile patient can't guarantee success. They failed. He had a relapse more severe than his teammates had ever seen.

I've had the chance to get both sides of the conversation – the victim and the medical. The doctors try to cure their pain. The sufferers think most doctors are high-priced veterinarians, until they find something that makes their pain stop. At that point, they're willing to kiss them full on the lips.

What the NFL has in Harvin is what may be tantamount to Lou Gehrig. They call ALS Lou Gehrig's Disease because he was a high-profile person afflicted with it. Harvin has inadvertently cast a spotlight on migraine headaches that has made both the condition and the number of people disabled by it considerably more aware to the non-affected majority. With the resources at the snap of a finger to a corporation as massive as the NFL, the league should be taking the lead on this issue.

The NFL has spent untold dollars by forcibly gaining expertise in the field of brain injuries and what are considered "normal" conditions. The chorus of former players suffering from a significantly reduced quality of life is growing. The league may "grandfather" against the claims of players from the last century, but, as their voices get louder and the outrage over their treatment grows, the NFL has defended its own shield by hiring the best defense money can buy.

The only reason that the NFL is aggressively mandating member teams taking a cautious approach to putting players back on the field post-concussion is because all of the data league attorneys have compiled to fight post-concussion syndrome comes back with a collective "Uh, oh." There is a correlation. The ramifications years from now may be much worse, as the game has become more high-speed and the collisions more violent. What Harvin suffers from is brain-related, just as the numerous in-house checks cut from 280 Park Ave. have been deposited by medical pros to study the human brain. The marriage between the NFL and Harvin could (and definitely should) be a natural.

The NFL has some of the best doctors on the planet on the "extended family" payroll. While the league's initial intent centered in the realm of covering one's own assets, the result is that the NFL has aligned itself with some of the top difference-makers in the medical field. They didn't hook up with slippery ambulance-chasers. Why not use those relevant resources to use Harvin as the migraine guinea pig. I'd be willing to bet Harvin would be willing. The league has the means to get it done. This is a chance for the NFL to man up, be proactive, take the lead and, in the spirit of goodwill before a potential lockout season, say, "you wanna check out our doctors?"

According to those in close proximity to the situation, Harvin was in and out of consciousness. Had he suffered a full-blown seizure, the reaction would surely have been worse and considerably more reported in the national media. The best we have to go on is Brad Childress telling Jay Glazer that Harvin is expected to return to practice next week. While everyone is passing it off as just a significant "episode," I'm one of those whose glass in life has taught him to be half empty. The pure power of available power-brokers to deal with the problem are not only available, they're already on the company dime.

If Harvin can find relief from his pain, how it affects the Vikings in 2010 and beyond is, in the big picture, meaningless. His quality of life is significantly more important than the quality of his kickoff returns or route adjustments. In preparing for a war from former players and their legal contingent, the NFL has amassed an army of doctors at the top of their field. As long as they're on retainer anyway, why not put their collective expertise to good use – as opposed to wasting hours preparing them for cross-examination. Perhaps Harvin could be the test case that helps find a cure for this disorder – that goes far beyond the NFL and eases the pain of less-famous sufferers.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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