We’ve been critical this season of the Steelers’ handling of head injuries. Instead of acknowledging that a player has suffered a concussion, the Steelers describe the condition as “concussion-like symptoms.”
Common sense indicates that it’s a distinction without a difference. If a player has suffered a blow to the head and is exhibiting concussion-like symptoms, it’s probably not because he has some other health condition that suddenly has caused him to display the symptoms of a concussion.
Common sense also suggests that the Steelers are resisting the application of the “concussion” label for a reason, presumably one that in some way benefits the Steelers.
After pressing the Steelers and the league office for further information regarding the situation, the league office has elaborated. “Concussion-like symptoms describe just that — symptoms — that may lead to a diagnosis of a specific injury — concussion,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “For purposes of our rules, a player with concussion-like symptoms should be treated as if he has suffered a concussion unless a concussion is specifically ruled out.”
There’s the loophole. If the Steelers’ doctors are able to specifically rule out a concussion, then the Steelers never have to surrender their handling of the player to an independent neurologist. While we have no reason to doubt the substantive abilities of the Steelers’ doctors, the fact that the NFL even uses independent neurologists represents an acknowledgement of the possibility that a team’s doctors will at some level be influenced by their desire to remain the team’s doctors, especially when dealing with a relatively vague and subjective condition like a concussion.
And if a team’s doctors become overly cautious on the issue of concussions, the team eventually may decide to find other doctors.
In the end, the use of a term other than concussion becomes a matter of control. The Steelers likely don’t want to surrender ultimate control over who can and can’t play to a truly independent neurologist. Instead, the Steelers — like many teams — hope to retain some ability to persuade, expressly or implicitly, the team’s doctors to give a player who wants to play the ability to play.