San Francisco 49er Eric Heitmann Cracks His Nuts … And Leg … And Neck … And Head?

You don’t have to be an ambulance chaser in order to know which way the sports-head-injury litigation winds are blowing. The San Francisco Chronicle’s football writer, Kevin Lynch, has provided some instructive background on the woes of San Francisco 49ers center Eric Heitmann.

Yesterday Lynch reported that Heitmann, who missed all of last season after injuring his neck and breaking his leg in training camp, will sit out all of 2011, as well, lockout or not, with a ruptured neck disk.

But it was Lynch’s blog post on the Chronicle’s website that told “the rest of the story.” See “Eric Heitmann – victim of the nutcracker,”

Heitmann’s injury is another lasting legacy from Mike Singletary’s infamous nutcracker drill. The exercise in which two players clashed into each other and tried to push the other one back, like a pair of mountain rams, resulted in a series of injuries. None more serious than Heitmann’s; he felt a tweak in his neck after a nutcracker encounter in last summer’s training camp.

According to tackle Joe Staley, Heitmann ignored the injury but was slowed by it. The next day in a team drill, Heitmann broke his leg when he wasn’t quick enough to escape a falling teammate. The shattered fibula might have prevented possible paralysis with his vulnerable neck. While recovering from the leg injury, numbness and shooting pain persisted from his neck. When the symptoms refused to abate, Heitmann underwent surgery last month.

Those of you who follow football already know that in his two-plus years as the 49ers’ head coach, Singletary convincingly established that he was one of the 25 or so National Football League field generals who have no idea what they’re doing, rather than one of the seven or so who have a clue. The Heitmann anecdote adds another dimension to the sensitive-assassin shtick that Singletary (a teammate of Dave Duerson on the defense of the Chicago Bears’ 1986 Super Bowl champions) parlayed into a career on the Christian motivational-speaker circuit and then in the NFL coaching ranks.

As for Singletary’s employer and league – it is not exactly reassuring to hear that the much-ballyhooed concussion-awareness culture shift of 2010 did nothing to prevent this men-among-men barbarism, which not only damaged Heitmann’s neck but also, I strongly suspect, resulted in long-term brain trauma, diagnosed or otherwise.


Irv Muchnick

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July 2011

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