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When it comes to spotting concussions, NFL walking tightrope

Alex Smith, Anthony Davis AP

The NFL has developed a very good procedure for keeping players with concussions out of action until they are healed.  But when it comes to spotting a player who suffered a concussion during a game, the NFL’s current protocol doesn’t work.

How do we know it doesn’t work?  Because players routinely stay in games after suffering concussions.  It has happened at least four times in recent weeks, with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn, and Raiders linebacker Rolando McClain all playing after suffering concussions.

Sure, they get spotted eventually.  At halftime, like Cutler.  Or after the game, like McClain.  But with the greatest risk of a serious injury coming from a second concussion in the immediate aftermath of a first concussion, it’s critical that the NFL identify players who have suffered concussions and get them off the field.

Though the NFLPA is right to want independent doctors on the sideline to administer the concussion tests, that serves only to counter the dynamic of team doctors with head coaches peering over their shoulders as the team doctors determine whether the player can still play.  The challenge is to determine when the concussion test must be administered.

And that’s where things could get very delicate for the NFL, as we’ve recently explained.  It’s one thing to take a player who has suffered a concussion out of action; it’s quite another to remove a player from service for 10-15 minutes to be examined for a concussion that he ultimately is determined to have not suffered.

So what can the NFL do?  The helmet-based HIT system could be the only objective way to determine whether a player needs to be checked for a head injury, but that could turn football into a game of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, where the overriding goal becomes hitting a guy’s helmet enough times to trigger the sensors that will remove the player from the game for concussion testing.

That’s the reality of football.  That’s why the player suspensions in the bounty case seem so harsh.  It’s a game of attrition.  Whether that comes from knocking a guy out of the rest of the game or putting him on the sidelines for however long it takes to administer a concussion test, forcing a key opposing player out of action always will help a team win.

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15 Responses to “When it comes to spotting concussions, NFL walking tightrope”
  1. farty5 says: Nov 14, 2012 10:43 AM

    I’m willing to bet Leftwich suffered a concussion, too. He got flipped over and landed directly on his head on one of his first snaps. He was noticeably woozy and threw some terrible balls after that.

    Of course, Pittsburgh didn’t even entertain the notion of testing him – he was their last QB. Stuff like that should be looked into.

  2. wwwmattcom says: Nov 14, 2012 10:45 AM

    It’s a challenge on every level. Imagine a high school kid who would rather be out there with a concussion. I think, coaches love that. So therefore student athletes are willing to risk it for coaches approval.

    Kids fake concussions to get out of football.

    Kids fake being well to keep playing football.

    The NFL has become ‘Jackass”. Each game needs to be preceeded by a message, “Don’t do this at home”.
    High school football is a chance to immitate heros from TV.
    All it takes is one hero to dish out concussions.

  3. beautifulsickness says: Nov 14, 2012 10:46 AM

    Really? It’s that much of an inconvenience to take a player out of a game for 10 or 15 minutes to rule out a concussion.

  4. footballfan58 says: Nov 14, 2012 10:54 AM

    What I don’t get is this: The players who brag about playing with concussions and hide the fact that they have concussion symptoms from their coaches so they can keep playing are turning around and suing the league for not protecting them. What is up with that???

  5. ttommytom says: Nov 14, 2012 10:54 AM

    Leftwich would have had to go through said concussion protocol. He sure looked like he banged his had hard enough on his first (or one of his first) drop backs.

    I thought he had one, just from my living HD perspective. I’m sure those watching would have to monitor from camera angles.

    There is no answer on the horizon. Leather helmets?

    If you’ve ever hit your head on a rock while white water rafting, those cheapo become life saving. The NFL needs safer helmets, not more rules.

  6. ttommytom says: Nov 14, 2012 10:57 AM

    Didn’t see your post ‘farty5′. I guess it was obvious to more than just me.

    Steelers obviously looked the other way. The coaches in the sky HAD to know.

  7. kingpel says: Nov 14, 2012 11:17 AM

    They will never convince me that Vick didnt suffer a concussion in the pre-season and for this entire season this man has been pressing to stay on the field in fear of losing his job. His demeanor just hasnt been the same. You can tell something has been off for awhile.

  8. kingpel says: Nov 14, 2012 11:20 AM

    ttommytom says:Nov 14, 2012 10:54 AM

    There is no answer on the horizon. Leather helmets?

    …………………………………………………………………

    How about helmets made from hard foam? They would protect the head without the weight and it would be less damamging if used as a weapon.

  9. justintuckrule says: Nov 14, 2012 11:22 AM

    This league has gotten so soft it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the NFL will now be giving all 22 players full examinations after every play.

  10. tfaulk says: Nov 14, 2012 11:24 AM

    Again: there is no way to diagnose a concussion properly with less than 24 hours of monitoring.

    The simple answer is tightening the rules even more, but also introducing a personal safety waiver.

  11. 49erdynasty says: Nov 14, 2012 11:27 AM

    What you’re forgetting is that concussions aren’t always an instant thing. Kind of like a bruise.

    Before yapping on and on about what NFL policies should be like regarding a concussion maybe you need to understand their pathophysiology a bit more.

  12. hersh8245 says: Nov 14, 2012 12:03 PM

    Believe it or not, there is a simple solution. Make mouth pieces mandatory!!!!

    They are intended to prevent head impact injuries (ie – concussions), not protect teeth.

  13. sullijo1 says: Nov 14, 2012 1:11 PM

    Until these idiots start wearing their helmets tighter, I don’t want to hear any more about concussions.

    There is no reason a helmet should just “flop” off during a routine play.

  14. wwwmattcom says: Nov 14, 2012 1:30 PM

    hersh8245 says: Nov 14, 2012 12:03 PM

    Believe it or not, there is a simple solution. Make mouth pieces mandatory!!!!

    They are intended to prevent head impact injuries (ie – concussions), not protect teeth.
    _________________________________
    This is just not true.

    The only way to prevent concussions is to prevent the brain from slamming into the skull. Decelerating quickly.
    People get concussions while they are in a car that stops suddenly. Your brain also stops suddenly by decelerating into the skull.

    The only way to prevent concussions in football is to not play football.

  15. comeonnowguys says: Nov 14, 2012 2:12 PM

    I’d like to see an exhibition game or two in the offseason to test playing with no pads. Everyone’s so armored up they take a lot of dumb risks they wouldn’t without it.

    While nothing will ever prevent concussions, it could likely force players to actually play the game and not just launch themselves hoping that alone will bring someone down.

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