Twelve days ago, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith both stayed in games and continued to play after suffering concussions serious enough that neither of them has been cleared to play yet.
So does the fact that Cutler and Smith weren’t immediately pulled indicate that the NFL’s concussion protocols aren’t working? Not according to Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, co-chair of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee. Ellenbogen told USA Today it’s simply not realistic to think that every concussion every player suffers will be caught immediately. And he said the players themselves, in the heat of the action, often don’t realize anything is wrong.
“Remember, the problem is that with all the adrenaline, the concussion was not immediately obvious to the players,” Ellenbogen said. “Both became symptomatic as they played further. It certainly is not uncommon for concussions to evolve. . . . Smith’s and Cutler’s symptoms both evolved as they played, according to team doctors and athletic trainers who know them best.”
Ellenbogen’s comments suggest that there’s nothing the league could ever do to make sure every player who suffers a concussion is immediately removed from a game. The bottom line from the doctor the NFL trusts to oversee its handling of concussions is that everything was done properly in the cases of Cutler and Smith — and they were still able to continue playing after suffering concussions.