Last year’s Case Keenum incident made a mockery of the NFL’s concussion protocol, with the clearly-concussed Rams quarterback not removed from a game against the Rams for an evaluation. The debacle resulted in no discipline for the various persons who failed to protect Keenum from the possibility of a second concussion in the same game.
And so the NFL, showing once again a commitment to ensure that an unfortunate, embarrassing situation “will never happen again,” adopted a new procedure for enforcing the concussion protocol. From the PFT story based on the announcement made on July 25: “The joint agreement of the NFL and NFL Players Association announced Monday entails each party designate a representative ‘to monitor the implementation of the protocol and investigate potential violations.’ The press release announcing the program explains that ‘[t]he investigation will not reach medical conclusions; it will only determine whether the protocol was followed.’ After the investigation, the league and union ‘will review the findings to determine if a violation occurred and, if so, to recommend the proper disciplinary response.'”
This means that the league and the union have equal power to launch an investigation into whether the concussion protocol properly was followed in any given situation. Which raises this question: Will the NFL or the NFLPA exercise that right regarding the failure to remove Panthers quarterback Cam Newton for a concussion evaluation during the final drive that nearly culminated in a Carolina win?
Newton seemed to be in distress after taking his latest illegal hit to the head — the only one that actually drew a flag. But he didn’t leave the field for an evaluation.
It’s the latest example of the biggest glitch in the NFL’s overall approach to concussions. Key players in crunch time rarely ever get removed for an evaluation, probably because the ATC spotter doesn’t want to be blamed for creating a competitive disadvantage if, for example, Cam Newton had been unavailable to the Panthers for the final drive if, as it turns out, Newton didn’t have a concussion.
The reluctance is understandable, but still inexcusable. If the league takes player safety as seriously as it claims to, the league needs to find a way to ensure that the concussion protocol is followed at all times, regardless of the player’s importance to the team or the importance of the moment of the game in which a concussion possibly has occurred. For now, the process continues to have a donut hole that eventually will result in a key player suffering a second concussion, which in turn could result in the kind of consequence to his health that will trigger major consequences for the sport.