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.