On Sunday night, Steelers receiver Hines Ward absorbed a helmet-to-helmet hit. Bizarrely dubbed a “neck” injury by the team during the game, coach Mike Tomlin admitted in his post-game press conference that Ward suffered a concussion.
And it’s now clear that the neck injury didn’t magically become a concussion. It was a concussion all along.
“I was fine,” Ward said Monday, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
. “Got my bell rung a little bit. Had to hurry up, get up, get off the field like I always do. I guess I stumbled a little bit. Took all the tests. I was fine to go back in
but I guess the NFL’s got their rules or something. You got to abide by the rules, I guess.”
And here’s the rule. If a guy has suffered a concussion, he can’t return to the game.
So the question remains. Why didn’t the Steelers tell the truth about Ward’s condition?
We see two explanations. First, the Steelers were considering the possibility of pretending that Ward didn’t have a concussion, and sending him back in. Second, the Steelers wanted the Patriots to think he possibly could return to the game, even though there’s no way he was coming back.
Either way, the situation calls for the NFL to beef up its concussions procedures. We’ve previously suggested that the league should assign a “safety official” to each game, who would among other things be responsible for pointing doctors in the direction of players who possibly have suffered concussions, and who would be responsible for ensuring that the players aren’t allowed to return to action until it has been determined that they don’t have a concussion. The fact that the Steelers were even able to label Ward’s condition as a “neck” injury suggests that there’s a potential loophole in what should be a bright-line rule.
Moreover, once the doctors determine that a player has sustained a concussion, he should be taken to the locker room and kept there. Ward remained dressed and ostensibly ready to return at a moment’s notice. He even was spotted riding a stationary bike, something he shouldn’t have been doing after suffering a concussion.
The league has made great progress over the last year when it comes to the proper handling of concussions. As Commissioner Roger Goodell has said on multiple occasions, the league has an obligation to provide a clear example for all other levels of the sport.
To lead effectively, the NFL’s rules must be something other than window dressing. In Ward’s case, the Steelers’ ability to call Ward’s injury anything other than a concussion suggests a level of discretion that simply shouldn’t exist.