At one point after the NFL finally and completely woke up to the potential risks of concussions, a loose sense emerged that a player who suffers a concussion will miss at least one game.
More recently, it seems that the presumption has flipped, with players suffering a concussion on Sunday (or Monday) and receiving clearance to play the following week.
The fact that clearance to practice and play comes from independent neurologists has contributed to the perception that everything must be on the up and up, reducing the reasons for anyone to question whether players are being protected from their coaches — and from themselves. Notwithstanding the lingering flaws with the NFL’s system for spotting concussions in the first place, it seems that we’ve all become numb to the notion that guys can and will play a week after suffering a head injury.
Consider the case of Broncos receiver Wes Welker. Apart from whether someone/anyone should have realized that he had no business returning to the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s win over the Chiefs, Welker missed a practice on Wednesday and only two days later was cleared to play.
While the “probable” label officially was applied to Welker, on Friday interim coach Jack Del Rio dubbed Welker “definite” for Sunday night’s game.
But how can anyone know only five days after the concussion that Welker will “definitely” be able to play? Symptoms can return after clearance to play has been received. We’ve seen it before, including earlier this year with Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
With Del Rio declaring that Welker “definitely” will play, what happens if Welker rolls out of bed this morning with a headache? What if he feels dizzy when he’s heading to the bathroom to inspect his hair plugs? What if he has any of the other subtle concussion symptoms that would be easy to conceal?
Obviously, Welker would have plenty of reasons to keep his mouth shut even without his interim head coach telling the world Welker “definitely” will play. But Del Rio’s extreme confidence seems misplaced when dealing with concussions, making it hard not to wonder whether all teams truly have the right atmosphere in place to encourage players to come forward if the symptoms of their concussions possibly have not fully dissipated.