At at time when plenty of teams seem to be unable or unwilling to spot concussions until the game in which the injury was sustained is over, the Giants are in the small minority of teams that take extra steps to identify whether a player needs to be evaluated after taking a blow to the head.
“[T]he athletic trainers are spread out over the field, the doctors are spread out on the field, and so we’re now communicating through earpieces and radios,” Giants head trainer and senior V.P. of medical services Ronnie Barnes told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “We’re being — I’d like to say more vigilant — in looking at the field, and making sure we’re not missing anything. We alert each other that we’ve seen something, and I think that’s been very helpful.”
Barnes said that perhaps four or five teams use that many people to spot possible concussions.
“[I]t’s been really helpful to me because I’m not running back and forth, because I can be down working with a player, and another player could go down,” Barnes said.
And when the Giants think someone may have suffered a concussion, the Giants don’t mess around with a cursory sideline exam performed in the elements and the noise and the confusion of the sidelines.
“Generally speaking, if we decide that a player has been concussed or has concussion symptoms, we take them inside,” Barnes said. “And inside, we have an iPad, with a sideline assessment tool, which then documents all of the symptoms within minutes after they were removed from the field, and it also includes a balance test, which then we can look at during the week, to say, ‘This is where he was during the game, and this is where he is on Thursday, on Friday, on Saturday.’”
It’s a great approach. It’s the right approach. So the question now becomes why aren’t the other 27 or 28 teams doing the same thing?
While we completely agree with the NFLPA’s repeated requests for the use of independent neurologists during games, the biggest challenge for the NFL when it comes to concussions is striking the balance between removing from play those who has suffered concussions while also not removing from action during a key stretch of a game a player who ultimately is deemed to be fine.
“I’m a caretaker of the game with respect to sports medicine, because of Wellington Mara, and because we’re a flagship team in this league,” Barnes said, “and I think it’s our responsibility to continue to be flagship, not only on the field, but in medicine.”
It’s not the product of a recent epiphany. Barnes explained that the Giants always have been ahead of the curve when it comes to concussions.
“I’d like to think that we’ve always had here at the Giants a high level of suspicion for concussion, and that we were conservative,” Barnes said. “Lawrence Taylor, we actually used to hide his helmet when he got concussed. And he’d be looking for his helmet. Anybody who had a concussion, we would take their helmet so they couldn’t return to the game.”
If the current approach is good enough for the team that has won two of the last five Super Bowls, it should be good enough for everyone else. The NFL should study the Giants’ approach, and the NFL should make it mandatory for every other team.