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Teams are responsible for keeping concussed players out of games

Lewis Getty Images

The letter sent by the chairmen of the league’s Head, Neck, & Spine Committee to all NFL teams subtly but clearly places the blame on two unnamed players (widely believed to be Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis and Packers tackle David Bakhtiari) for violating the concussion protocol by (as to Lewis) failing to leave the sideline area after being diagnosed with a concussion and (as to Bakhtiari) re-entering the game after being removed for a concussion evaluation.

Couched as a failure of the players to follow medical advice, the blame surely doesn’t belong with the players.  Football players are wired to play.  You can’t make the club in the tub, and if you’ve made the club and won a job you’re one injury away from being Wally Pipped.

If the rules are violated, the players aren’t to blame.  It’s the obligation of the medical staff, the trainers, and the coaches to prevent the player from playing.  The simplest approach is to remove his helmet.  If that doesn’t work — if the player bulls his way onto the field — then the team needs to call a time out.

What’s that?  There are only three per half?  Too bad.  If a player whose brain potentially has been injured tries with the signals sent from that potentially injured brain to the rest of his body to go back into the game when he’s been flagged as possibly having a concussion, the team needs to protect the player from himself.

The entire concussion protocol, from diagnosis to return to game action, is premised on protecting the player from himself.  Medical staffs and teams can’t hide behind the notion that players are refusing to follow medical advice by trying to play with a concussion.  If a player possibly has suffered a concussion and he somehow gets back onto the field or lingers in the sideline area, the team necessarily has violated the rules.

“We will continue working with the League to ensure that team doctors, coaches, trainers and other members of a team’s medical staff enforce return-to-participation protocols,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said earlier today on Twitter.  “Players naturally want to play and ultimately, the game day medical and coaching staffs have the responsibility and obligation for player protection and care.   Union and League medical staffs have worked together all season long to enforce, adjust and educate about concussion protocols.”

Atallah is right.  If concussed players aren’t following the rules, the teams aren’t following the rules.  And if/when the league faces litigation over a concussed player who somehow made it back into the game and suffered another concussion leading to a serious brain injury or worse, it won’t be good enough to blame the player for violating the league’s concussion protocol.

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27 Responses to “Teams are responsible for keeping concussed players out of games”
  1. riverhorsey says: Jan 10, 2014 10:32 PM

    just paste a big “C” on the guys back when he hits the bench. The refs see that and halt play until the player leaves. You make this way to hard guys.

  2. mark0226 says: Jan 10, 2014 10:34 PM

    It needs to be an official (injury) timeout, not a team timeout. What if the team already used all of their timeouts? The team needs to notify the officials and the officials need to call an injury timeout.

  3. noslashers says: Jan 10, 2014 10:48 PM

    The Saints’ trainers did. They took away his helmet. This was a PLAYOFF game and Mr. Lewis showed the passion he has for the game by not wanting to leave his teammates. His replacement immediately gave up big a play and a penalty, adding to the drama.

  4. GenXJay says: Jan 10, 2014 10:55 PM

    Who decides on players with a broken collarbone? ex. ShAaron Rodgers.
    I guess it doesn’t matter. cheesebay got eliminated in the wildcard.

  5. thegreatgabbert says: Jan 10, 2014 11:09 PM

    “We try to be extra careful about these things, but you know sometimes, with a guy like Keenan, it’s really hard to tell…..”.

  6. illinininer says: Jan 10, 2014 11:11 PM

    Unless there were 12 men on the field for the Green Bay extra point, the coaches HAD to of known he re-entered the game. Otherwise his replacement would have been on the field as well, right?

  7. davikes says: Jan 11, 2014 12:52 AM

    A player with a concussion can’t think clearly. The league can’t blame the player. Coaches need to be held accountable.

  8. arwiv says: Jan 11, 2014 12:55 AM

    Let the players have a vote in how this is to be decided as they are the ones who actually play the game. At the same time, let every player, in his contract, agree to not hold the league accountable for any concussion related injuries they sustain IF they choose to keep playing after having sustained a head injury.

    Men played this game for many years, in a much more brutal fashion, and with much less protective equipment, and somehow survived it.

    Somebody is greatly benefitting from this whole concussion thing…..that is why we are hearing so much about it. If there was no benefit to be had, you would never hear anything.

  9. gadgetdawg says: Jan 11, 2014 2:06 AM

    I don’t get the whole ‘don’t blame the player thing’. These are grown adults. In the real world, the rest of us have to follow the rules (we call them laws) or we get in trouble.

    I understand that the teams should take part of the blame but why doesn’t the player too? If you break safety rules in the real world (depending on the circumstances), everyone is eligible for punishment if they don’t follow the OSHA rules.

    Stop treating the players like children, if they break the rules, then penalize everyone at fault. After the team and the player takes a hefty penalty, it will stop quickly.

  10. bennyb82 says: Jan 11, 2014 3:22 AM

    Every team needs to just hire a JR Smith…he would find a way.

  11. larryjames836 says: Jan 11, 2014 3:52 AM

    New Orleañs Saints have they hands full with the Seahawks now the NFL. Green Bay Packers are out the NFL is talking to the Saints player Lewis right now. NFL trying everything they can to keep the Saints out of the Super Bowl run, maybe Sean Payton may in up setting Lewis out

  12. natelan69 says: Jan 11, 2014 4:39 AM

    The league needs to provide concussion experts for every game, and the decision to pull a player should be up to the league experts on the sideline, rather than the players, the coaches or the team doctors (conflict of interest, much?).

    This doesn’t just diminish the potential for conflict of interest, it also protects the league in the future by ensuring, using their own standards and employees, that everything possible was done to minimize further trauma for concussed players.

  13. tennfan says: Jan 11, 2014 4:55 AM

    I read the other day where some Denver players were planning on playing this week end against San Diego Chargers. The headline read “Denver Broncos getting healthy and making a run for the play offs”. It listed Wes Walker and another player that had been held out because of concussions problems and were listed on Denver injuried player list, but were reported practicing for the Charger game this week end. I understood that the NFL rule was that any player listed with a concussion were not supposed to be practicing or allowed to play in any games . guess i WAS WRONG . I notice that the headline reads “Teams are responsible for keeping concussed players out of games” so does that make it okay with the NFL if Denver lets Wes Walker and the other player still play in the play off game this week end, knowing that the players are all ready suffering from a concussion ?

  14. sfm073 says: Jan 11, 2014 4:59 AM

    And football coaches are hardwired to win football games, and one extra loss on their record could be the difference between watching the game at home or coaching on the sidelines.

  15. guitarrebel says: Jan 11, 2014 6:42 AM

    So, you can lead a horse to water AND make him drink?

  16. FinFan68 says: Jan 11, 2014 7:46 AM

    As soon as they diagnose a concussion, notify the HC and an official who should disqualify the player.

  17. beerbratscheese says: Jan 11, 2014 7:56 AM

    So another ruling where players aren’t responsible for their own actions. SUPER!!! I don’t know the entire situation with Lewis, but Bakhtiari grabbed his helmet and ran on the field before anyone noticed.

    It was sudden and completely unexpected. The training staff turned their back for just a moment. What should they have done? Handcuff him to the bench? If you tell a player to sit, you assume that, since he’s an adult, he will do as instructed.

    If the Packers had continued to let him play, knowing he was out there, then some responsibility should go to the team. But this was all on the player.

  18. dremmel69 says: Jan 11, 2014 7:57 AM

    Why not let the coach throw the red flag in these cases? Seems more reasonable than requiring the use of a timeout.

    The medical staff could place an indetfying mark on the back of the player’s jersey that is easily identified by officials and coaches.

  19. dremmel69 says: Jan 11, 2014 8:06 AM

    Here’s another option. The medical staff buzzes the officials that a player has been officially determined to be concussed. The officials do not allow the next play to begin until the player has been escorted from the sidelines.

  20. iamedreed says: Jan 11, 2014 8:41 AM

    These players are paid millions of dollars to play a game that they know can lead to potential long term negative health side effects

    let em play!!!

  21. whoisferg says: Jan 11, 2014 10:15 AM

    The problem is that if a player shows any concussion symptoms, at all, he is supposed to be held out. Heck, that probably happens to 10 guys per play. It is impossible to catch all of the “concussion-like symptom” guys during the course of a game. If it’s obvious, the medical staff should force the coaches to keep them out.

    These are grown men who know they might get concussed at any time during a game. Make them sign an ironclad waiver saying they cannot sue later on for brain trauma injuries. If they don’t sign, they don’t play. Go get a real job if you don’t like it.

  22. wwwmattcom says: Jan 11, 2014 10:24 AM

    Wow, hand holding at it’s finest.

    This article was written in such a way, it reads like an attack on the medical staff.

    Why can’t you inform a grown person of a policy and expect them to abide by it?

    Oh right bcause everyone likes to remember Wally Pipp.

  23. wwwmattcom says: Jan 11, 2014 10:26 AM

    Couched as a failure of the players to follow medical advice, the blame surely doesn’t belong with the players. Football players are ?WIRED? to play. You can’t make the club in the tub, and if you’ve made the club and won a job you’re one injury away from being Wally Pipped.

    What an absolutely ridiculous statement.

    Football’s culture, including the way the media reports it, needs to change.

    Fire the programmer.

  24. dryzzt23 says: Jan 11, 2014 10:34 AM

    Ok so let the inmates run the asylum. NO!
    If a team even suspects the most minimal sign of a concussion, or the possibility thereof, then due to the potential liability that a team and the NFL faces, I propose that the player be removed from the sideline and taken to the medical exam rooms.
    If the player refuses, then police should physically remove him, in handcuffs if necessary.
    This crap HAS to stop. Players have ZERO liability and the teams and NFL have all of it. Screw the players, they KNEW what could happen.

  25. dryzzt23 says: Jan 11, 2014 10:39 AM

    Take away his helmet? Do you really think that will stop a player? There are 50+ helmets on the bench, he’ll find another one. If he ran out w/o a helmet, or took a different helmet, if he got hurt, he, his agent, and the union would all place the blame squarely on the team and the NFL.

    Have a concussion or suspect one? The refs should stop the game and not restart it until the concussed player has been removed from the sideline.

    If the player fights back, handcuff him and remove him, then fine him $500k for disobeying a direct order.

  26. southpaw0609 says: Jan 11, 2014 10:49 AM

    There is a conflict of interest built into the system here between the team/league medical staff and the player — who doesn’t want to be considered damaged goods. They all know they are one significant injury away from losing their starting job, or even roster spot.

    Plus, it is especially tempting with concussions because the physical damage is not obvious like a limb injury would be.

  27. revelation123 says: Jan 13, 2014 7:51 AM

    I like Bakhtiari’s grit. He was the only rookie left tackle to begin the season as the starter. Let alone remain the starter the entire season. Even with the rookie mistakes that one would expect, Bakhtiari’s surprisingly held his own at LT in his rookie season. Green Bay may have gotten a 4th round steal in the 2013 NFL draft.

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