Proper procedures for diagnosing concussions represent the next frontier in the NFL’s handling of head injuries. And a recent concussion and seizure suffered by Chargers guard Kris Dielman could bring about the type of change that is currently needed.
The league has revolutionized over the past two years the practices that apply after a player has been diagnosed with a concussion. More recently, multiple incidents have shown that much more needs to be done before the C-word is invoked. Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Dielman’s injury will be the “subject of intensive discussion” at a Tuesday meeting of the NFL and NFL Players Association’s Joint Committee on Player Safety and Welfare.
“I’ve looked at the play at least a hundred times,” Dr. Thomas Mayer, the NFLPA’s medical director, told Mortensen. “Not only does the broadcast footage provide a clear visual record, you can hear the collision loud and clear on the audio. It really was an unfortunate event but this is a process and an opportunity to further strengthen our protocol. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here. . . .
“You can see on the video when Dielman wobbles backwards that the umpire [Tony Michalek] is concerned and the referee [Ron Winter] notices something, too,” Dr. Mayer said. “Dielman waved off the umpire. I know he’s one tough dude but this is what we’re trying to avoid. We can educate the officials to treat this like a significant injury, stop time and call for medical attention. When Dielman continued to play in the game, he was subject to further collisions by the nature of the sport and his position.”
Dr. Mayer explained that the Chargers physicians, Dr. Calvin Wong and Dr. David Chao, didn’t know the injury had occurred and weren’t told about it when Dielman came to the sideline. Per Dr. Mayer, Dr. Wong was working on another player and Dr. Chow couldn’t see clearly what had happened on the field.
Mortensen reports that the Tuesday discussion will include the question of whether an independent neurologist should be present on the sidelines during games. As we reported after the Mike Vick “dirt on the face” incident, the NFL does not currently use independent neurologists during games. Instead, independent neurologists become involved only after the concussion diagnosis has been made.
Based on the various recent items I’ve written on this issue, I once again propose the following procedure: (1) the placement of a safety official in the replay booth, who is charged with monitoring the field, the sidelines, and any available replays for evidence of a player who possibly has been concussed; (2) the presence of one independent neurologist per team at field level who would be buzzed by the safety official to conduct a comprehensive exam of any player who possibly has suffered a concussion; and (3) mandatory examination of the player who possibly has suffered a concussion in a comfortable area of the locker room, with shoulder pads off and the doctor and player able to engage in a candid and thorough exchange.
Here’s hoping that the doctors who’ll gather in New York tomorrow realize that these or similar measures will promote player safety at every level of football. If the league begins to use better tools for diagnosing concussions, all lower levels of the sport will follow suit.