During both Friday afternoon’s PFT Live and Friday night’s NBC SportsTalk on VERSUS (at the tail end of our show-starting “10 things to know” for the coming weekend of NFL action), I devoted some time to the circumstances surrounding the concussion sustained last Sunday by Chargers guard Kris Dielman. Far more troubling than the fact that Dielman suffered a seizure on the flight home from New York after a loss to the Jets is the fact that Dielman exhibited enough signs of wooziness and disorientation to mandate an immediate evaluation.
For those of you who have the game stored on a DVR or access to NFL.com’s Game Rewind service, fast forward to 12:30 of the fourth quarter. On that play, Dielman pulls from his left guard position toward the right side of the line, dropping his head to block Jets linebacker Calvin Pace. Dielman then reels away from the block, takes several steps, and lands on the ground. He stumbles to his feet, and Jim Nantz of CBS points out that Dielman is “a little shaky and wobbly.”
Umpire Tony Michalek pauses to look at Dielman as he tries to get up. Michalek puts his whistle in his mouth, apparently considering whether to call an injury timeout. But then Michalek, possibly after hearing Dielman say that he’s OK, focuses on the task of spotting the ball for the next play.
Dielman waves toward the sideline, and he seems to regain his wits. So he stays in the game, even though in hindsight he definitely should have been removed.
“We are reviewing it with the club, its medical staff and the NFLPA,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told PFT via email on Friday regarding the situation. “The player was not diagnosed with a concussion until after the game.”
The point, of course, is that he wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion until after the game because he wasn’t checked for a concussion until after the game. And if the league’s much-publicized (but in some cases possibly ignored) “WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE THEM OUT” memo from last month means what it says, players must be removed from play whenever there is “any suspicion” that the player has suffered a concussion.
“Guys get bounced around pretty good,” coach Norv Turner said Friday, per the Associated Press. “It’s tough to see everybody from the sideline, or even from upstairs or a TV screen what a guy’s condition is. Our guys understand that if they aren’t able to go, they need to get out. I think it was handled the way we’d try to understand any injury situation.”
Turner, with all due respect, is wrong. And here’s why. The CBS cameras showed that Dielman was wobbling and disoriented, even though he successfully pulled himself together, as players who don’t want to exit games often do. That should have been enough reason to remove him from the field and evaluate him.
But there’s no system for making that happen, even though there should be. The league, if truly serious about the problem of concussions, must have a safety official in the replay booth, scanning the field, the sidelines, the replays, and all other available evidence for signs that any player may have suffered a head injury. The safety official should then buzz down to an independent neurologist, who will remove the player from action and keep him out until the player is cleared.
We invite the NFL or anyone else to advance a persuasive argument against this approach. We have a feeling that we’ll be waiting for a while.